Administrative Discretion and Active Representation: An Expansion of the Theory of Representative Bureaucracy



Recent studies of the theory of representative bureaucracy have focused on active representation, whereby administrators in public organizations work to advance the interests of particular groups, achieving policy outcomes that directly address the needs of those groups. The concept of administrative discretion is central to these studies, as an administrator must have the discretion to produce results that reflect the values and beliefs of these groups. While the presence of discretion is often implied in these studies, few have examined it explicitly. Using data from the Farmer's Home Administration, we explore whether administrators who perceive themselves as having more discretion enact policy outcomes that are more representative of minority interests. The results strongly support the conclusion that administrators who perceive themselves as possessing significant discretion and who assume the role of minority representative in their agencies are more likely to enact policy outcomes that favor minority interests.