“Micromanagement” of the U.S. Aid Budget and the Presidential Allocation of Attention


  • AUTHOR's NOTE: This research was assisted by an award from the Social Science Research Council of an Advanced Fellowship in Foreign Policy Studies with the support of a grant from the Ford Foundation.

Timothy J. McKeown is professor of political science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His work on presidential decision making during the Cuban Missile Crisis was published in the Journal of Politics in 2000 and 2001.


How presidents allocate their attention is the subject of much popular commentary and speculation, but little systematic scholarly research. I focus on an apparent case of presidential “micromanagement”—the practice within the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon White Houses of requiring presidential approval for small (often $5 to $10 million) foreign aid expenditures. I sketch the outlines of a theory of presidential attention, and show that the degree of presidential attention to such expenditures is a function of the changing balance of payments position of the United States, and officials’ assessment of the severity of the Soviet threat in the less developed world.