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Where do Presidents Politicize?

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

Governance Salon featuring David Lewis, Vanderbilt University

April 26, 2010

This paper explains why American presidents politicize some agencies and not others. It focuses on politicization motivated by a presidential desire to change agency policies, particularly in areas central to the president’s agenda, but constrained by the need to not excessively damage agency competence. It tests these expectations with original data from a survey of federal executives at the end of the George W. Bush Administration. The paper finds that presidents are more likely to politicize agencies that have different policy views from those of the president. They are less likely to politicize agencies whose tasks are complex or technical. Presidents are also more likely to politicize agencies central to implementing the president’s agenda. The paper concludes that extent of politicization varies across the government but varies in predictable ways based upon the incentives of presidents.About the author: David Lewis’ research interests include the presidency, executive branch politics, and public administration. He is the author of two books. The first, Presidents and the Politics of Agency Design (Stanford University Press, 2003), analyzes the why some agencies are designed to be insulated from political influence. His second book, The Politics of Presidential Appointments: Political Control and Bureaucratic Performance (Princeton University Press, 2008), analyzes the causes and consequences of presidential politicization of the executive branch. He has published numerous articles on various topics in American politics, public administration and management in journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, the British Journal of Political Science, Public Administration Review, and Presidential Studies Quarterly. His current projects explore the political views of government agencies and their employees, the politics of presidential appointments, and various aspects of public sector management performance. Ph.D. from Stanford University.


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