Establishing a Continuum from Minimizing to Maximizing Bureaucrats: State Agency Head Preferences for Governmental Expansion—A Typology of Administrator Growth Postures, 1964–98


  • Cynthia J. Bowling,

    1. Cynthia J. Bowling is an assistant professor of political science at Auburn University. Her research focuses on public administrators, bureaucracy, and policy within the broader state and local government context. She is currently involved in research to identify and explain patterns of female representation in state agency head positions over the last four decades. E-mail:
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  • Chung-Lae Cho,

    1. Chung-Lae Cho is a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. His research interests are federalism, intergovernmental relations, state government and administration, and methodology. His dissertation focuses on the dynamics of national influences on state agencies through incentives (federal aid) and sanctions (mandates). He served as the associate director of the 1998 American State Administrators Project. E-mail:
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  • Deil S. Wright

    1. Deil S. Wright is the Alumni Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. E-mail:
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Scholars have long suspected the blanket description of bureaucrats as “budget maximizers” is simplistic and inaccurate. This article provides empirical grounds for questioning that description and enhances our understanding of bureaucratic fiscal preferences. Bureaucratic preferences for expansion are distributed along a continuum. A typology of agency heads' expansion preferences is developed and related to Downs's typology of bureaucrats. Data from eight surveys of state agency heads (1964–98) enable us to trace administrators' preferences for expansion over four decades. These preferences vary substantially in any single survey year and reflect trends across these years. Notably, a substantial proportion of agency heads opted for no expansion in their own agency's programs and expenditures or in the state's overall budget. This typology challenges conventional conceptions of bureaucrats' maximizing preferences, advances alternative interpretations about budget minimizing, and fills an important gap in budget and bureaucracy theory.