The Secular Decline in Presidential Domestic Policy Making: An Organizational Perspective


  • AUTHOR's NOTE: An initial version of this essay was delivered as a commentary response to Professor Paul C. Light's essay “Domestic Policy Making” (Light 2000) at the Reinventing the Presidency Conference, Center for Presidential Studies, Program in American Politics, The George Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, College Station, October 1-2, 1999. I wish to thank conference organizers George C. Edwards III and Kenneth J. Meier for inviting me to participate as a paper commentator at this conference. I also wish to thank Andy Rudalevige for providing helpful comments on an updated version of this essay. Any shortcomings associated with this essay remain my own.

George A. Krause is associate professor in the Department of Political Science at University of South Carolina, Columbia.


What has caused the secular (long-term) decline in presidential domestic policy-making activities over the past several decades? In a previously published article in this journal, Paul Light provides several interesting speculative reasons for this trend. I propose a general explanation for the secular decline in presidential domestic policy making that centers on the rising organizational size and scope of the institutional presidency. Specifically, I argue that the American presidency's greater than optimal organizational size and scope has hurt its domestic policy-making activities in absolute terms. The suboptimal organizational size and scope of the presidency has also led to a deterioration of its institutional comparative advantage in policy-making activities vis-à-vis Congress. Therefore, twenty-first century American presidents possess a strong incentive to restrict the organizational size and scope of the Executive Office of the President as a means to strive for optimal institutional performance.