The Triumph of Loyalty Over Competence: The Bush Administration and the Exhaustion of the Politicized Presidency


Donald P. Moynihan is associate director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs and a Romnes Fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research examines public management issues such as performance, homeland security, citizen participation, election administration, and employee behavior. He is the author of The Dynamics of Performance Management: Constructing Information (Georgetown University Press, 2008), which won the award for best book from the Public and Nonprofit Section of the Academy of Management in 2009.

Alasdair S. Roberts is the author of The Logic of Discipline: Global Capitalism and the Architecture of Government (Oxford University Press, 2010), The Collapse of Fortress Bush: The Crisis of Authority in American Government (New York University Press, 2008), and Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age (Cambridge University Press, 2006). He is the Jerome L. Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School, a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, and an honorary senior research fellow of the School of Public Policy, University College London.


The most important administrative aspect of the George W. Bush presidency was not its formal management reform agenda, but its attempt to extend the politicized presidency. Efforts to assert tighter political control of the federal bureaucracy, revived during the Ronald Reagan administration, were pursued to an extreme under Bush. Loyalty triumphed over competence in selection, and political goals displaced rationality in decision making. However, the strategy of politicization undermined the Bush administration’s own policy goals as well as its broader agenda to restore the strength of the institutional presidency. This apparent failure of strategy signals the urgent necessity for a fundamental reconsideration of the politicized presidency.