The Appointments Dilemma


  • This article benefited enormously from many long conversations with David Lewis. I would also like to thank seminar participants at the Hoover Institution, University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, San Diego.

Nolan McCarty is professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540 (


In a separation of powers political system, effective bureaucratic control may be undermined by the fact that the power to appoint bureaucrats is controlled by a different set of principals from those that may control them through statutory or budgetary means. In particular, executives have proposal power over bureaucratic appointments and removals while legislators have proposal power over laws. In this article, I explore the consequences of this division of authority for bureaucratic outcomes. I argue that this pattern of authority often produces outcomes inferior to those generated when appointment, removal, and legislative powers are centralized as is the case in many parliamentary systems. The model reveals that restricting executive removal power can mitigate these problems. Finally, I discuss the relevance of thisappointments dilemmafor bargaining over bureaucratic structures with a focus on removal powers, independent commissions, and civil service rules.