Who's the boss? Patterns of regulatory discretion and bureaucratic responsiveness in regional enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency
Concerned theorists have suggested that because of the disproportionate power of public bureaucrats, politicians do not control policy, and citizens cannot make responsible decisions between elected representatives. Other theorists have argued that bureaucrats are, in fact, highly responsive to the influence of elected representatives. I suggest that these two points of view do not have to be contradictory. Rather, we should determine the circumstances under which bureaucrats are and are not responsive to political leaders. I use the concepts of political conflict and technological complexity to develop a theory of bureaucrat responsiveness which explains why bureaucrats will or will not be responsive. I further explore the way in which these patterns of responsiveness are altered by federal implementation of policy, administrative factors, and environmental contingencies. I use the enforcement activities of the Environmental Protection Agency to test a model of political and bureaucratic interaction. This complex federal system allows us to suggest when bureaucrats will be responsive to political oversight, to which political actors bureaucrats will respond, and how bureaucrats will balance conflicting demands from competing political actors. I use EPA enforcement cases from 1975 through 1990 to analyze the impact of bureaucratic responsiveness on regional environmental aggressiveness.