Study Challenges Perception that Political Alignment Leads to Greater Discretion for Government Officials
VILLANOVA, Pa.—Christine K. Palus, PhD, dean of Graduate Studies in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and associate professor of Public Administration, has won the Beryl Radin award from the Public Management Research Association for Best Article in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory published during 2016.
“The Radin award is special precisely because it is based on a peer assessment of the most impactful work in the best journal in public affairs. It is based entirely on merit, and one of the highest honors in our field,” said PMRA President Don Moynihan, PhD, professor of Public Affairs and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.
Dr. Palus and co-author Susan Webb Yackee, PhD, professor of Public Affairs and Political Science at Wisconsin-Madison, won for their paper, “Clerks or Kings? Partisan Alignment and Delegation to the U.S. Bureaucracy,” which examines the role of partisanship in narrowing the perceived policy authority available to politically like-minded agency officials. Using three decades of 6,000-plus survey observations in all 50 states, Dr. Palus and Dr. Yackee found that shared political affiliations between a governor or legislature and agency heads restrict perceptions of administrative authority.
“A dominant theoretical perspective posits that when government officials have the same political affiliation as the elected leadership, they believe they have more discretion. We found the opposite—they actually feel more constrained,” Dr. Palus said. “While our study provides new insight into the relationship between administrative agency leadership and their elected political principals, continued attention to this important public management topic is critical.”
The article was selected from all of the published papers in JPART by a committee made up of Jessica Sowa, PhD (chair), University of Baltimore; Poul Nielsen, PhD, Southern Denmark University; Tina Nabatchi, PhD, Syracuse University; and Deneen Hatmaker, PhD, University of Connecticut.
The committee noted that: “Palus and Dr. Yackee developed novel measures and data to test what is probably the strongest and best-supported claim made by the delegation literature, and they produced a finding that is completely at odds with all existing work. The new measure fits with public administration scholarship in nature by asking what happens in practice (the use of perceived discretion) rather than counting formal rules. In this fashion, the paper revisits the importance of the bureaucratic machinery and not just formal statute.”
The Beryl Radin award will be presented at the business meeting of the Public Management Research Conference on June 9 at American University, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Palus leads the College’s 22 graduate programs, which enroll more than 1,500 students across two PhD programs, 20 master’s degrees and more than 40 graduate certificates. She has conducted extensive research in public administration and management, state and local politics, urban politics and women in politics.