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Back to the Future? Toward Revitalizing the Study of the Administrative Presidency


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago.

Robert F. Durant is professor of public administration and policy in the School of Public Affairs at American University. His previous books include The Administrative Presidency Revisited: Public Lands, The BLM, and the Reagan Revolution and Environmental Governance Reconsidered: Challenges, Choices, and Opportunities. His latest book is The Greening of the U.S. Military: Environmental Policy, National Security, and Organizational Change.


This article argues that despite the significant insights offered by prior research, assessments of the efficacy of the administrative presidency to date are both premature and in need of refocusing to comport with the realities of the American political system. In regard to prematurity, assessments must be withheld until four interrelated limitations of prior research are addressed. First, unlike early qualitative research on the topic, most recent research related to the administrative presidency has used neoclassical economics-based or statistically sophisticated research designs that marginalize the implementation processes accompanying these efforts to advance presidential agendas. Second, assessments of the administrative presidency using this approach typically incorporate questionable assumptions. Third, typical criteria for assessing the administrative presidency fail to incorporate the realities of presidential decision making. Finally, most recent research fails to employ methodologies capable of incorporating these realities.