By: Steven J. Balla & William T. Gormley, Jr.
In this book, we focus on bureaucratic accountability and performance. We aim to lay out just how bureaucracy is accountable, as well as to whom, under what circumstances, and with what results. In presenting these issues, we draw on insights from four prominent social scientific theories—bounded rationality, principal-agent theory, interest group mobilization, and network theory.
These perspectives provide alternatives to the usual practice of viewing bureaucracy through the lenses of partisanship and political ideology, which, while valid, often obscure our vision instead of sharpening it. Bounded rationality captures the pragmatic side of bureaucratic problem solving and bureaucracy’s remarkable capacity to make reasonably good decisions with limited time and information. Principal-agent theory highlights the challenges of delegation from politicians to bureaucrats and the difficulties of overseeing bureaucratic organizations. Interest group mobilization draws our attention to the important role societal organizations play, for better or for worse, in influencing bureaucratic policymaking, as well as the circumstances under which such organizations are most active and powerful. Network theory stresses relationships inside and outside government that cannot be reduced to hierarchical form. In a chapter on the politics of disaster management, we demonstrate the usefulness of these four theories in understanding the bureaucracy’s response to some of the most important challenges it faces, including terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and public health crises.