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Organizational Complexity and Coordination Dilemmas in U.S. Executive Politics


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: I thank David Lewis, Andrew Rudalevige, Neal Woods, and participants at the Political Control of the Bureaucracy Conference for constructive criticisms and helpful suggestions along various stages of this project. A special debt of gratitude is owed to Bert Rockman for his insightful suggestions that has both altered and improved the focus of this essay.

George A. Krause is a professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of A Two-Way Street: The Institutional Dynamics of the Modern Administrative State and co-editor of Politics, Policy, and Organizations.


Modern scholarship on the institutional presidency has emphasized the formal mechanisms that presidents employ to obtain bureaucratic compliance. This literature emphasizes presidents' effective use of both expressed and implied constitutional powers. Unfortunately, little systematic inquiry has analyzed how extraconstitutional features of the executive branch limit the president's capacity for effective control over administrative agencies. This essay highlights three problems of organizational complexity relating to presidential control over the bureaucracy that merit greater attention from scholars of U.S. executive politics: (1) vertical coordination, (2) horizontal coordination, and (3) credible commitment. The author sketches out elements of a research agenda that examines presidential control over the bureaucracy in relation to each of these coordination problems. The basic implication of this essay is a simple one—failing to account for these organizational problems overstates the true capacity of presidential control over executive administration.