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PPA 503 – The Public Policy-Making Process PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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PPA 503 – The Public Policy-Making Process. Lecture 3a – Official and Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy. Introduction. Political science traditions.

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PPA 503 – The Public Policy-Making Process

Lecture 3a – Official and Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy


  • Political science traditions.

    • Institutionalism – focus on texts of constitutions, laws, and other written statements of policies and the relationships between formal government institutions.

    • Behaviorism – focus on political motivations of individuals, acting singly and in groups, often through polling, game theory, and statistical techniques.

    • Neo-institutionalism – focus on organizations and systems in which individuals interact and achieve political and policy goals through explicit or implicit rules and operating procedures.


  • Main categories of actors in the policy process.

    • Official actors – statutory or constitutional responsibilities.

      • Legislative, executive, and judiciary.

    • Unofficial actors – participation with no explicit legal authority.

      • Interest groups, media.


  • First listed branch in the federal and most state constitutions.

    • Source of considerable research.

  • Primary function is lawmaking. Number of bills and resolutions gives some idea of how busy legislatures are.



  • Burden eased by staff.

  • Bills sifted by committee structure at both the federal and state level.

    • Committee chairs wield significant power.

    • Most bills fail to move past their first committee hurdles because they are largely symbolic gestures.


  • Other critical functions performed by legislators that affect public policy.

    • Casework – activities to help constituents with government agencies or to gain a privilege or benefit.

      • Supports reelection.

    • Oversight – Monitor the implementation of public policy.

      • Government Accountability Office – www.gao.gov. Studies public programs and makes recommendations to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability.

      • Public hearings.

        • Help understand issues.

        • Reveal shortcomings in current policies.

        • Make political capital.

Legislative Organization

Legislative Organization

  • California process.

    • http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bil2lawx.html.

Legislative Organization

  • What you see on C-SPAN does not represent the bulk of legislative action on policy.

  • Most of the critical work on public policy is done in committees, which review legislation, propose and vote on amendments, and, in the end, decide whether a bill will die at the committee level or be elevated for consideration by the full body.

  • One of the most critical elements of legislative organization is the organization on party lines.

Legislature – Critiques of Public Policy Process

  • Many people argue that legislatures are out of touch with the people.

  • To understand why legislatures work as they do, you need to understand two elements of the legislature: the nature of the members of the body and the organization and nature of the branch itself.

Legislature – Critiques of Public Policy Process

  • The primary goal of the typical legislator is reelection. Casework allows legislators to please voters.

    • Home style and hill style.

  • Legislatures are decentralized institutions, especially Congress.

    • Committees and subcommittees.

    • Decentralization and centralization of party leadership.

    • Issue networks and policy subsystems.

Legislatures – Implications for Policy Making

  • Decentralization and casework focus makes complex and change-oriented legislation difficult to pass.

The Executive Branch

  • For the sake of discussion, the executive branch can be considered in two parts: the administration, staff, and appointees; and the bureaucracy.

  • Advantages of an elected executive in the policy process.

    • Veto power.

    • Unitary branch of government.

    • Media and public attention.

    • Informational advantage over the legislature.

The Executive Branch

  • Elected executive limitations.

    • “Power to persuade”.

    • The size of the Executive Office of the President.

  • Elected executive’s focus on agenda-setting.

Administrative Agencies and Bureaucrats

  • Characteristics of bureaucracy.

    • Fixed and official jurisdictional areas.

    • Hierarchical organization.

    • Written documentation.

    • Expert training of staff.

    • Career, full-time occupation.

    • Standard operating procedures.

  • Key complaints about bureaucracy.

    • Size.

    • Red tape.

Administrative Agencies and Bureaucrats

  • What Do Government Agencies Do?

    • Government agencies provide services that are uneconomical for the private sector (public goods – free-rider problem).

      • Public goods are indivisible and nonexclusive.

    • Complaints tend to focus on speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of public service delivery.

Administrative Agencies and Bureaucrats

  • Bureaucracy and the problem of accountability.

    • The key problem is the question of accountability. Most public employees are appointed on merit, not accountability to elected officials.

    • Early thinking focused on separation of politics and administration.

    • Modern thinking: Agency decisions are political and in the realm of administrative discretion.

    • Problem: no single, agreed-upon definition of the public interest.

    • Administrative discretion: ability to make decisions with minimal interference.

The Courts

  • The ability to interpret legislative and executive actions: judicial review.

  • Courts are the weakest because their authority rests on the legitimacy of the law and their ability to argue their case.

  • Legislatures and executives initiate public policy, while courts react to the practical effects of such policies.

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Individual citizens.

    • Low political participation.

      • Voting.

      • Other forms of participation: campaigning, contacting, etc.

    • Despite this, citizens can be mobilized:

      • Recall election in California.

    • Generally speaking, individuals want the most services for ourselves while paying the least taxes for those services.

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Interest groups.

    • Interest groups have been part of the political scene since the founding.

      • Madison and the dangers of faction.

    • Since the 1960s the number of groups has greatly expanded.

      • Transportation, mass communication, expansion of government.

    • Few legal barriers to the creation of groups.

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Interest groups.

    • The power of interest groups varies.

      • Knowledge, money, information.

      • Group size, peak associations.

      • Intensity, direct economic interest, ideological commitment.

      • Social movements (combinations of interest groups).

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Types of interest groups.

    • Institutional versus membership groups.

    • Economic (private) versus public interest versus ideological groups.

      • Benefits, free-rider problems.

  • Activities of interest groups.

    • Lobbying.

    • Campaign contributions.

    • Access (well-off).

    • Mass mobilization, protest, and litigation.

    • Riots and protest marches.

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Political parties.

    • Functions.

      • Voting cues.

      • Transmission of political preferences.

      • Creation of packages of policy ideas.

      • Organization of the legislative branch.

  • Think tanks and other research organizations.

    • Brookings, Cato, Urban Institute, Rand, American Enterprise Institute.

      • Ideological, scholarly, and methodological distinctions.

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Communications media.

    • The news media are important actors in the policy process.

      • Newspapers – National versus regional versus local.

      • TV is the central news medium. Older population, networks; younger population, cable news.

        • Entertainment programming can be equally important.

          • Movies, t.v., videogames.

    • Media’s primary function in policy process is agenda-setting. Media coverage correlates with institutional attention.

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Communications media.

    • News media are not just passive actors.

      • Interest try to arouse media focus.

      • Time and space constraints require discretion.

      • Profit-driven businesses.

      • Competitive biases of news gathering: dramatic and narrative qualities of the story.

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Subgovernments, issue networks, and domains.

    • Policy domain is the substantive area of policy over which participants in policy-making compete and compromise.

    • The political culture and legal environment influence the domains.

    • Policy community inside the domain consists of the actors actively involved in policy making in that domain.

      • Iron triangles one way of organizing the policy community.

      • Issue networks may be more accurate description.

Unofficial Actors and Their Roles in Public Policy

  • Subgovernments, issue networks, and domains.

    • Prying open policy networks (major corporate interests usually dominate).

    • But, policy change is possible by prying open a domain.

      • Focusing events.

      • Social movements and mobilization.

      • Exploiting the decentralization of American government.

      • Going public.

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