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Does Agency Autonomy Foster Public Participation?



Allocation of public resources is an area in which considerations of both economic efficiency and democratic legitimacy are likely to be present. Public administrators are often blamed for being too devoted to the norms of bureaucratic ethos, such as efficiency, effectiveness, and top-down control, and less so to the norms of democratic ethos, such as inclusiveness and bottom-up decision making. This article examines whether managers in agencies with greater budget autonomy are more likely to include the public when allocating resources. Because participation offers an opportunity for agencies to enhance the legitimacy of their decisions, it is expected that the value of citizen input will increase with the degree of agency autonomy. Using data on the practices of citizen participation in budgeting in two state departments—transportation and environment—this study finds that agencies with a higher degree of autonomy tend to be more open to public comment than agencies with more centralized budget processes.