Bureaucratic agencies occupy a politically perilous position in the American federal government. As agents of both Congress and the president, agencies are responsible to principals who often perceive political incentives to manage them in ways that appear to undermine agencies' policy missions. In this paper, I study how presidents' administrative strategies affect public confidence in bureaucratic agencies. Survey experiments embedded on a national sample of Americans provide evidence that the loss of expertise significantly reduces public confidence in bureaucracy. These patterns are consistent across several agencies, but are relatively stronger among political Independents and weakest among Republicans. Moreover, I find no evidence that other potential mechanisms of presidential control of bureaucracy, including changes in capacity or its ideological composition, affect public confidence. The results provide new evidence about how information and expertise affect Americans' attitudes toward the federal bureaucracy and shape the incentives for criticism and oversight from political elites.
Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, Volume 1, Issue 1 Special issue - The Political Economy of Executive Politics
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