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Steering Agencies with Short-Term Authorizations


Thad Hall is an assistant professor of political science and a research fellow in the Institute of Public and International Affairs at the University of Utah. His book Authorizing Policy (Ohio State University Press, 2004) examines the role of short-term authorizations in the policy process. His 2003 article “Live Bureaucrats and Dead Public Servants” won the Brownlow Award for the best article by a practitioner in Public Administration Review.


After World War II, the U.S. Congress began a process of engaging in what David Rosenbloom refers to as Congress-centered public administration. In this article, the author argues that the use of short-term authorizations by Congress facilitates congressional oversight and co-management of public programs. Using data from three case studies, the author shows that Congress is able to systematically, on a regularized basis, shape the overall goals, structures, and decision rules that govern agency activities. It can also promote research and analysis that will inform the reauthorization of a program by funding studies and requiring specific reports to be produced. The agencies are, in turn, able to implement the new legislative requirements over a given timeframe—typically four to six years—and do so in an environment that is relatively free from other congressional changes to the legislation underlying the program in question. During this time, the agency and Congress are able to determine what works and what does not work and to formulate changes that should be considered in the next reauthorization legislation.