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Blue Ribbons, Black Boxes: Toward a Better Understanding of Presidential Commissions



Presidential commissions usually are thought to tackle domestic policy issues, with little effect. This essay challenges the conventional view by finding greater commission variety and systematic differences in the ways presidents utilize commissions in domestic and foreign affairs. The essay classifies commissions into three ideal types: agenda commissions, which generate support for the president's initiatives and target a mass audience; information commissions, which provide new facts and thinking about policies and target government officials; and political constellation commissions, which seek to foster consensus among competing interests and target commission members themselves. Specific hypotheses comparing how presidents use commissions in foreign versus domestic policy are developed and tested with a data set of all presidential commissions from 1981 to 2001.