I try to combine political science and law in my teaching and research of the administrative state. This past semester I taught Administrative Law (in the law school) and Politics, Economics, and Law of Administrative Agencies (a graduate seminar in the political science department). The seminar began with a brief survey of the principal theories of organizations—classic organization theory, principal-agent theory, transaction costs theory, and cultural/reputational theory. It then covered the following main topics: creation and structure of the federal administrative state (and occasional elimination of particular agencies); agency appointments (confirmation process and tenure of agency officials); delegation of legislative and adjudicative powers to agencies; and executive, congressional, judicial, and interest group oversight of agencies. The seminar’s primary approach was through positive political theory and empirical work concerning the American administrative state, but it also considered normative, historical, and comparative perspectives. I pulled readings mainly from political science, but also used some from law (where interesting empirical work is increasingly common) and other fields. I’m happy to share my detailed syllabus with any interested reader and would greatly appreciate any suggestions for improvement.
I have a series of research projects going (including some intensive data collection efforts concerning agency officials and agency regulatory agendas). I thought I would write about one project involving the Government Accountability Office (GAO, formerly the General Accounting Office) before returning to drafting my recommendation letters for students applying for clerkships. Using game theory and data on the GAO’s work, I examine the relationship between Congress and its primary “auditor” of the bureaucracy when the institutions may not share identical incentives and when the auditor must choose among various opportunities for oversight. In the principal-agent model developed, an auditor must consider how neutrality or political bias, or the perceptions of either, will operate given her own interests and the objectives of legislators. I show how a legislature can create socially optimal as well as socially perverse incentives for its auditor. With a partisan principal, an auditor may build a partisan reputation. Auditing politics, even for the nonpartisan auditor, may become political auditing. According to the model, the more evenly balanced the electoral chances of the parties, the less political auditing will occur.
I develop some empirical implications of this model and evaluate them using data on investigations by the GAO from 1978 to 1998. Although the GAO does not appear to shift significantly its portfolio of self-initiated investigations to please particular congressional majorities, it has increasingly performed work at the request or mandate of Congress, rather than on its own. The GAO also seems to issue recommendations to Congress and agencies in a targeted manner. The paper should be up soon on SSRN (I am waiting to incorporate feedback from my wonderful colleagues); I’ll send along a copy now if you email me. Again, feedback would be most appreciated.
I’ve enjoyed my stint as a guest blogger. Thank you for having me.