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The Institutionalization of Regulatory Review: Organizational Stability and Responsive Competence at OIRA


  • AUTHOR's NOTE: I would like to thank Jim Anderson, Joe Cooper, Bob Durant, George Edwards, and Ken Meier for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

William F. West is professor and director of the Master in Public Service and Administration Program at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University. He is the author of Controlling the Bureaucracy: The Theory and Practice of Institutional Constraints and Administrative Rulemaking: Politics and Processes.


Scholars have argued that presidents’ need for responsiveness induces them to adopt ad hoc, politicized management strategies. Most have been critical of this tendency, contending that presidents are better served by established organizations and civil servants within the executive office. Their premise is that the neutral competence brought to bear through these institutional resources will faithfully promote the interests of whoever occupies the White House. Yet others have argued that political responsiveness is essential to the accomplishment of presidential goals, and that this can only be obtained through personalized management techniques that bypass the bureaucracy.

This study examines these assertions in the context of regulatory review. Centralized executive oversight of agency policy making has been implemented through a stable organization staffed almost exclusively by career bureaucrats, but it has also reflected the agendas of different presidents. An analysis of the structure and the implementation of regulatory review is thus inconsistent with popular descriptions of executive management. Although it supports the prescriptive argument that established institutions can serve presidents effectively, it does not suggest that such responsiveness is likely to occur through a cultural medium of neutral competence. Regulatory review has promoted executive interests across administrations precisely because the process has internalized incumbents’ political preferences.