Agreeable Administrators? Analyzing the Public Positions of Cabinet Secretaries and Presidents


  • AUTHORS’ NOTE: We would like to thank George Krause, Larry Lynn, and Robert Reich for comments and suggestions. Markus Specks and Frank Wilson provided invaluable research assistance.

Anthony M. Bertelli is assistant professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia (2001). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and senior lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester. He has published articles on public administration and management, political institutions, measures of ideology, public administration history, and applied formal theory. His book Madison's Managers: Public Administration and the Constitution (with Laurence E. Lynn, Jr.) was published by Johns Hopkins Press in 2006.
Christian R. Grose is assistant professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. He received his B.A. from Duke University (1996) and his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester (2003). He previously worked as an assistant professor at Lawrence University (2003-2005). He has published articles on Congress, the presidency, bureaucracy, measures of ideology, representation, voting rights, and elections. In 2004, he won the Carl Albert Award for the best dissertation in the field of legislative politics (given by the American Political Science Association's Legislative Politics section).


Cabinet secretaries represent their departments when testifying before Congress on a broad range of legislation. Do they also represent the president's views on such legislation? Consistent with institutional theories of the presidency, we posit that, in some instances, cabinet secretaries take public positions contrary to those of the president, suggesting ideological distinctions between presidents and their appointed secretaries. We examine all congressional testimonies of secretaries of labor, commerce, and agriculture from 1991 to 2002, coding their positions taken on legislation considered on the floor of the Senate. Though these public disagreements are infrequent, our evidence suggests that agreement is more likely as support for the president's position among oversight committee members increases, yet less likely as secretaries’ tenure in office increases.