Attention, Politics or Performance? Competing Influences on Oversight by Analytical Bureaucracies in the Regulatory State
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In this paper, we examine and evaluate competing explanations for congressional attention to the federal bureaucracy in the United States. What we label “analytical bureaucracy” is a key, but severely understudied, tool in congressional management of administrative policymaking. Congressional attention to the bureaucracy generally, as well as particular agencies, is governed by a confluence of factors. These explanations involve the partisan and ideological features of the American political system, issue-driven attention through time, and bureaucratic performance. Using a new data set of reports issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the past quarter century, we examine the influence of partisan politics and governmental performance on congressional attention to the federal bureaucracy. Using the new GAO data as the focus of the analysis, we demonstrate variation in these data pursuant to common measures of ideology in Congress and the bureaucracy and measures of bureaucratic and programmatic performance. Using these data as the focus of study, we demonstrate that the strength of these different explanations varies both across time and particular partisan configurations of American government. Our findings have implications for how we understand the dynamics of congressional intervention in administrative processes, and further how we view the role of congressional bureaucracies in administrative policymaking.