Steven J. Balla

Senior Scholar

Photo of Steve Balla

 

Professor Balla’s research focuses on stakeholder participation in the development of regulations in the US and China.  Who participates in the making and implementing of regulations?  Does this participation have an effect on regulatory outputs and outcomes? Balla has studied the notice and comment process, OIRA regulatory review, advisory committees and negotiated rulemakings, among other topics.  

For the 2015 - 2016 academic year, Balla served as a Fulbright Scholar at Nankai University in Tianjin, China. Balla also served as a Fulbright Scholar in 2008-2009 at Peking University in Beijing, where he lectured on the American regulatory system and began conducting research on public involvement in policymaking in the Chinese political system.

With William T. Gormley, Jr., Balla is the author of Bureaucracy and Democracy: Accountability and Performance. 

He holds a Ph.D. from Duke University.

 

 
Content by Steve Balla:

 

Consultation as Policymaking Innovation: Comparing Government Transparency and Public Participation in China and the United States

June 3, 2020 | By: Steven J. Balla & Zhoudan Xie

This article compares government transparency and public participation in policymaking across China and the United States. The analysis specifically focuses on the notice and comment process—government announcement of proposed policies and solicitation of public feedback—at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOC) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The MOC and EPA are leading organizations in the implementation of such consultation in their respective countries. Information is collected and coded for hundreds of draft regulations and thousands of public comments that occurred during the 2002–2016 period. Statistical analysis of levels of, and variation in, transparency and participation demonstrates both similarities and differences in the operation of the notice and comment process at the MOC and EPA. Transparency and participation are generally lower at the MOC than in EPA consultations. Within such constraints, however, there is evidence of standardization in the administration of consultation by the MOC. These findings suggest that differences in the Chinese and U.S. political systems, rather than issues of administrative capacity, are the primary limitations of consultation as a policymaking innovation in contemporary China.


Lost in the flood?: Agency Responsiveness to Mass Comment Campaigns in Administrative Rulemaking

May 26, 2020 | By: Steven J. Balla, Alexander R. Beck, Elizabeth Meehan, & Aryamala Prasad

This article examines agency responsiveness to mass comment campaigns – collections of identical and near‐duplicate comments sponsored by organizations and submitted by group members and supporters – in administrative rulemaking in the United States. Focusing on 1,049 mass comment campaigns that occurred during 22 Environmental Protection Agency rulemakings between 2012 and 2017, the article develops and assesses expectations regarding responsiveness to campaigns relative to comments submitted outside of campaigns. The analysis demonstrates that, procedurally, the agency references mass comment campaigns in its responses to comments, but cites campaigns at lower rates than other comments. In terms of outcomes, the agency's regulations are generally not consistent with changes requested in comments, a lack of association that holds especially for mass comment campaigns. These patterns suggest that legal imperatives trump political considerations in conditioning agency responsiveness, given that mass comment campaigns – relative to other comments – generally contain little “relevant matter.”


Online Consultation and the Institutionalization of Transparency and Participation in Chinese Policymaking

May 26, 2020 | By: Steven J. Balla & Zhoudan Xie

This article examines the institutionalization of online consultation, a prominent instrument of governance reform in contemporary China in which government organizations make public draft laws and regulations and solicit input from interested parties prior to finalizing decisions. The article specifically analyses the extent to which online consultation is a durable governance reform that enhances transparency and participation in policymaking. The analysis focuses on the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) and Guangzhou Municipal Government (GMG), leading organizations in the implementation of online consultation. Through the analysis of original datasets consisting of hundreds of policies proposed by the MOC and GMG and thousands of comments submitted in response to these drafts, the article demonstrates that online consultation has institutionalized government transparency but has not consistently enhanced public participation. Although online consultation has the potential to transform policymaking, the evidence suggests that strong confidence in this possibility is not warranted.


Consultation as Policymaking Innovation: Comparing Government Transparency and Public Participation in China and the United States

November 01, 2019 | By: Steven J. Balla & Zhoudan Xie

This article compares government transparency and public participation in consultation—a prominent instrument of policymaking innovation—across China and the United States. The analysis specifically focuses on consultation at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOC) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—leading agencies in the implementation of consultation in policymaking in their respective countries—as a means of evaluating best practices in China relative to a corresponding benchmark in the United States. The analysis reveals both similarities and differences in transparency and participation at the MOC and EPA. The findings suggest that differences in the Chinese and American political systems, rather than issues of administrative capacity, are the primary limitations of consultation as a policymaking innovation in contemporary China.


Lost in the Flood?: The Efficacy of Mass Comment Campaigns in Agency Rulemaking

October 02, 2019 | By: Steven J. Balla, Alexander R. Beck, Elizabeth Meehan, & Aryamala Prasad

By assembling information about more than 1,000 mass comment campaigns that occurred during Environmental Protection Agency rulemakings between 2012 and 2016, the analysis addresses the manner in which the agency responds to campaigns and the association between campaigns and the substance of rules.


Where's the Spam? Interest Groups and Mass Comment Campaigns in Agency Rulemaking

September 27, 2019

By: Steven J. Balla, Alexander R. Beck, William C. Cubbison, & Aryamala Prasad

Through an analysis of more than one thousand mass comment campaigns submitted on Environmental Protection Agency rulemakings between 2012 and 2016, this article's findings suggest that mass comment campaigns are not a phenomenon meriting unique explanation, but rather occur in a manner similar to lobbying in other policymaking venues, such as lawmaking in Congress. The research also confirms expectations that campaigns submitted by regulated entities (i.e., industries) are more substantive than campaigns generated by beneficiaries of stringent regulations (e.g., environmental advocacy groups).


Consultation, Participation, and the Institutionalization of Governance Reform in China

March 4, 2019 | By: Steven J. Balla & Zhoudan Xie

This article examines the institutionalization of online consultation, a prominent instrument of governance reform in China in which government officials provide interested parties with opportunities to comment on draft laws and regulations over the Internet. The analysis demonstrates that government consultation practices have institutionalized to a greater degree than the citizen feedback that occurs in response to draft laws and regulations. These results point to the conclusion that online consultation is a governance reform that has advanced transparency and (to a lesser degree) public participation, but has not eroded the Chinese Communist Party’s dominance over policymaking.


Is Consultation the New Normal?: Online Policymaking and Governance Reform in China

March 29, 2017 | By Steven J. Balla

This article examines the operation of notice-and-comment-style policymaking in China. What kinds of government organizations have embraced consultation? What kind of information is disclosed during consultation? The article assembles original data on online consultation from more than one hundred central government ministries and provincial governments. The analysis shows that consultation is more commonly used by organizations that are well-resourced and that do not make policy in areas characterized by fundamental political sensitivities. Consultation holds promise as a Party-led, incremental administrative response to the governance challenges faced by contemporary China.


Salience, complexity and state resistance to federal mandates

October 28, 2015 | By Steven J. Balla & Christopher J. Deering

Although state resistance to federal mandates is a prevalent characteristic of contemporary American federalism, little is known about the factors that separate resisting states from states that do not oppose federal policy. This article examines state resistance through a framework that classifies public policies by salience and complexity and identifies societal interests and government officials who are hypothesised to influence policy making on issues of varying types. These hypotheses are investigated in the context of state resistance to four federal laws – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, No Child Left Behind Act, Help America Vote Act and REAL ID Act. The results of the statistical analysis demonstrate the centrality of the characteristics of citizens, elected officials and specialised interest groups in conditioning state resistance to federal mandates. These results suggest that state resistance can be characterized as a strategic response to federal mandates that varies systematically across types of public policies.


Public Commenting on Federal Agency Regulations

This report, commissioned by the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), investigates agency practices in soliciting, circulating, and responding to public comments during the federal rulemaking process.


 

Fake It Till They Make It: How Bad Actors Use Astroturfing to Manipulate Regulators, Disenfranchise Consumers and Subvert the Rulemaking Process

February 6, 2020 | By: Steven J. Balla

The House Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the effect of mass and fake comment campaigns on the rulemaking process. Senior scholar Steven J. Balla presented the findings of his research into thousands of mass comment campaigns to the Subcommittee.


GSA's Mass and Fake Comments Meeting

January 30, 2020 | By: Steven J. Balla

The General Services Administration held a public meeting in their Auditorium at 1800 F Street NW to discuss the effect mass and fake comments in the rulemaking process. Senior scholar Steven J. Balla presented the findings of his research into thousands of mass comment campaigns to the agency.


 

Bureaucracy & Democracy: Accountability & Performance

Bureaucracy and Democracy: Accountability and Performance book cover

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.


The Oxford Handbook of Classics in Public Policy and Administration

 

Co-edited by Steven J. Balla

This Handbook brings together a collection of leading international authors to reflect on the influence of central contributions, or classics, that have shaped the development of the field of public policy and administration.

The Handbook reflects on a wide range of key contributions to the field, selected on the basis of their international and wider disciplinary impact. Focusing on classics that contributed significantly to the field over the second half of the 20th century, it offers insights into works that have explored aspects of the policy process, of particular features of bureaucracy, and of administrative and policy reforms.

Each classic is discussed by a leading international scholars. They offer unique insights into the ways in which individual classics have been received in scholarly debates and disciplines, how classics have shaped evolving research agendas, and how the individual classics continue to shape contemporary scholarly debates. In doing so, this volume offers a novel approach towards considering the various central contributions to the field.

The Handbook offers students of public policy and administration state-of-the-art insights into the enduring impact of key contributions to the field.


 

The Eagle and the Dragon: Comparing Government Consultation and Public Participation between the US and China

March 27, 2019 | By: Steven J. Balla & Zhoudan Xie

This commentary demonstrates an interesting comparison in government consultation and public participation between the US and China. It shows that the US and China appear to have little variation in consultation procedures and participation levels, but major divergence in the level of transparency and the type of stakeholders who participate.


Measuring the Impact of Public Comments

April 07, 2014 | By: Steven J. Balla

For decades, a central question in rulemaking has been the extent to which public comments on proposed rules affect the substance of agency regulations. Do public comments really matter?