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Lost in Translation: How Bureaucratic Hierarchies Limit Presidential Control Over Distributive Policymaking in U.S. Federal Agencies

Zarit, Matthew (2018) Lost in Translation: How Bureaucratic Hierarchies Limit Presidential Control Over Distributive Policymaking in U.S. Federal Agencies. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the influence of organizational hierarchies within federal agencies and how they limit the influence of presidents on decision-making within bureaucracy. Federal contract awards from 2001 – 2016 are used to examine whether campaign donors to the president are given larger contracts relative to non-donors, regardless of where the award decision occurs in the agency hierarchy. Vertical insulation, as presented in this work, suggests that due to presidential influence, vendors will receive larger contracts in the top levels of agencies, but that this influence will dissipate lower in agencies. This theory is pursued in several ways. First, all contracts are examined together to determine if this broad pattern exists. Second, specific mechanisms within contracts, such as the bidding process and pricing structures, are analyzed to determine if they can be used to subvert organizational insulation. Finally, the effects of contract size are used to understand if political influence is strongest on the largest contracts. The findings show that organizational insulation does exist within agencies, with offices least insulated from the president in the hierarchy giving the biggest advantages to campaign donors. These advantages dissipate lower in the organizational hierarchy. Furthermore, these effects are strongest on the largest contracts, suggesting high returns for campaign donors if they pursue contracts from top-level offices in agencies. The president does have tools to subvert insulation however, as no-bid contracts in particular are shown to give the largest advantages for donors in offices in the middle of the hierarchy. The implications of these findings are that while presidents do have power over agencies, it is limited due to the natural organizational structure of agencies.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Zarit, Matthewmaz44@pitt.edumaz440000-0001-5559-748X
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairKrause,
Committee MemberWoon, Jonwoon@pitt.eduwoon
Committee MemberPerez-Linan,
Committee MemberRogowski,
Date: 27 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 July 2018
Approval Date: 27 September 2018
Submission Date: 1 August 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 202
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 presidency policymaking contracting hierarchy
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2018 00:16
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2018 00:16

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