Political Control versus Bureaucratic Values: Reframing the Debate


Kenneth J. Meier is the Charles H. Gregory Chair in Liberal Arts in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University and a professor of public management at the Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University. His research interests include empirical models of public management and questions of equity and public policy. E-mail:kmeier@politics.tamu.edu.

Laurence J. O’Toole Jr. is the Margaret Hughes and Robert T. Golembiewski Professor of Public Administration and head of the Department of Public Administration and Policy in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. Much of his research focuses on policy implementation and public management in networked settings. E-mail:cmsotool@uga.edu.


The literature on political control of bureaucracy reveals that bureaucracies are highly responsive to political forces. This paper argues that the political control literature misses evidence from other academic literature that bears directly on this phenomenon. Specifically, researchers need to consider the values of the bureaucracy in any effort to assess the degree of political control. An empirical test is presented using a data set from public education. Results show bureaucratic values to be far more influential in explaining bureaucratic outputs and outcomes than political factors. These findings suggest that a reinterpretation of previous empirical research is urgently in order.