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Bureaucratic Circumvention: Policy Delegation Strategies and Implementation Success in Low Capacity Bureaucracies, with Evidence from Latin America

Polga-Hecimovich, John (2016) Bureaucratic Circumvention: Policy Delegation Strategies and Implementation Success in Low Capacity Bureaucracies, with Evidence from Latin America. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Politicians in the developing world are often faced with the challenge of delegating policy to non-professional bureaucracies who cannot guarantee outcomes consistent with lawmakers' expectations. This raises important questions. First, how does low bureaucratic capacity affect politicians’ decision-making and behavior? Second, what explains policy success in low capacity environments? This book tells the story about how political strategies and behavior change as bureaucratic capacity decreases. It argues that in a low capacity context, politicians are increasingly unwilling to depend on their administrative apparatus, and may instead resort to "bureaucratic circumvention": creating new agencies, turning to out-of-jurisdiction agents, or outsourcing to the private or non-profit sectors.

The first part of the book focuses on the determinants of circumvention. It shows that this is more likely as existing bureaucratic capacity decreases, a politician’s ideology grows farther apart from that of the existing bureau, the cost of going outside the bureaucracy decreases, or policy importance increases. These hypotheses are supported through an analysis of an original dataset of delegation decisions from over 45,000 Latin American executive decrees. The second part examines the effects of agency choice on policy implementation. It argues that when politicians’ interests are aligned with those of their political allies, implementation is likely to be successful; when interests are unaligned, implementation will be less successful. These propositions are supported through evidence from six controlled case studies of public policies in Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

The implications of bureaucratic circumvention are manifold. First, this concept provides a framework with which politicians may achieve policy success. However, second, since a politician may also now choose the agent closest to her preferences, implementation tends to become more politicized. Third, since the politician may prioritize either capacity or ideology, policy success is never guaranteed. As a result, while circumvention may provide short-term gains, it is not a long-term panacea for the development of a professional, meritocratic bureaucratic corps.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Polga-Hecimovich, Johnjpolga@gmail.com0000-0002-0711-6255
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairPérez-Liñán, Aníbalasp27@pitt.eduASP27
Committee CoChairMorgenstern, Scottsmorgens@pitt.eduSMORGENS
Committee MemberKrause, Georgegkrause@pitt.eduGKRAUSE
Committee MemberBerkowitz, Danieldmberk@pitt.eduDMBERK
Date: 22 January 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 November 2015
Approval Date: 22 January 2016
Submission Date: 11 December 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 389
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Political Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bureaucracy, Delegation, Public policy, Implementation, Latin America
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2016 15:12
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2021 06:15


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