Lyndon Johnson, Community Action, and Management of the Administrative State



    1. Assistant professor of political science at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. His current research includes a historical study of the presidency's relationship with governors and mayors.
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  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank the Lyndon Baines Johnson Research Foundation for a grant that paid for a trip to the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas. Helpful librarians there provided access to invaluable documents that strengthened the article's thesis. Final work on this piece was completed with the help of a 2001 summer stipend from the City University of New York Research Foundation. Anonymous reviewers provided very sound advice.


The Community Action Program (CAP) was one of the highest-profile but least successful of President Johnson's Great Society programs. Pluralist and neo-Marxist theories hold that the origins of CAP and the problems that the program encountered were rooted in the politics of interest group and racial conflict, respectively. Drawing on archival evidence, this article turns attention to the important, yet forgotten, administrative dimension of CAP. The decentralized features of CAP were developed as a strategy to manage the federal bureaucracy and avoid conflict with Congress. Ultimately, CAP floundered as the decentralized control of the program freed it from the political control of the White House. The article concludes with a discussion of the problems presidents face in managing the federal bureaucracy and how the development of CAP reflects Johnson's management style in enacting domestic policy goals.