Modern presidents must negotiate the tension between, on one hand, public demands for systemic change and, on the other hand, contextual and institutional constraints that limit their authority and ability to achieve “reconstructive” reforms. Jimmy Carter's executive branch reorganization effort illustrates how institutional decision-making processes can impede presidents' attempts to pursue innovative approaches to reform. This article maintains that a “garbage ca” decision-making process led Carter and his aides to abandon their initial novel “bottom-up” approach to reorganization in favor of the traditional “top-down” structural approach adopted by their predecessors. The article concludes that institutional pressures compelled the recent president most intent on repudiating the past to affirm it.