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Bureaucratic Ambition

Careers, Motives, and the Innovative Administrator

Manuel P. Teodoro

Publication Year: 2011

Political scientists and public administration scholars have long recognized that innovation in public agencies is heavily dependent on entrepreneurial bureaucratic executives. But unlike their commercial counterparts, public administration “entrepreneurs” do not profit from their innovations. What motivates enterprising public executives? How are they created? Manuel Teodoro’s theory of bureaucratic executive ambition explains why pioneering leaders aren’t the result of serendipity, but rather arise out of predictable institutional design. Teodoro explains the systems that foster or frustrate entrepreneurship among public executives. Through case studies and quantitative analysis of original data, he shows how psychological motives and career opportunities shape administrators’ decisions, and he reveals the consequences these choices have for innovation and democratic governance. Tracing the career paths and political behavior of agency executives, Teodoro finds that when advancement involves moving across agencies, ambitious bureaucrats have strong incentives for entrepreneurship. Where career advancement occurs vertically within a single organization, ambitious bureaucrats have less incentive for innovation, but perhaps greater accountability. This research introduces valuable empirical methods and has already generated additional studies. A powerful argument for the art of the possible, Bureaucratic Ambition advances a flexible theory of politics and public administration. Its lessons will enrich debate among scholars and inform policymakers and career administrators.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Johns Hopkins Studies in Governance and Public Management


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pp. ix-xi

A consultant myself, I observed very different approaches to policymaking by different administrators, even when they faced very similar financial, institutional, and environmental conditions. Some bureaucrats engaged their elected officials proactively and sought the media spotlight, while others almost seemed to hide from their elected officials and shunned...

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pp. xiii-xv

When I was a child, I imagined that writing a book must be a profoundly, almost romantically solitary exploit. In reality, of course, producing a scholarly book is an inexorably social act. To the extent that this book succeeds, its success is due to the financial, intellectual, and personal support of many individuals and organizations. This project was possible thanks...

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1. Principles, Principals, and Ambition: The Politics of Bureaucratic Entrepreneurship

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pp. 1-24

The names of America's most prominent, transformational public administrators are easily familiar to scholars of American politics or public administration. William Bratton, William Mulholland, Gifford Pinchot, Alice Rivlin, and James Lee Witt are icons of agency leadership who...

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2. Glorious Heroes, Tragic Heroes, Antiheroes: How Bureaucratic Entrepreneurship Happens

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pp. 25-58

Government bureaucrats are frequently lampooned as insensitive, incompetent, or even corrupt. Scholarly works on the bureaucracy, particularly in the political science literature, often echo these themes, depicting bureaucrats as risk-averse, mechanical, or budget-maximizing. Nearly as often, however, the media identify administrators as policymaking heroes...

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3. A Theory of Bureaucratic Ambition: Why Bureaucratic Entrepreneurship Happens

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pp. 59-85

Despite numerous anecdotal accounts and case studies, we know little about why some bureaucrats emerge as policy entrepreneurs while others do not. Greenport's two police chiefs, Calvin Jensen and his successor Jerry Cook, approached the same job with very different decisions: Jensen was entrepreneurial and Cook deferential, each in the extreme. The concept...

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4. The Market for Bureaucratic Entrepreneurs: Career Path and Professional Innovation

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pp. 86-115

Policy entrepreneurship occurs when an individual introduces a policy innovation that satisfies some public demand. Like their commercial counterparts, policy entrepreneurs must assume some costs or takes some risk in pursuit of innovation with the expectation of some future payoff. For business entrepreneurs, the payoff is clear: commercial...

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5. The Psychology of Bureaucratic Entrepreneurship: Human Motivation and Political Advocacy

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pp. 116-137

When addressing the political dimensions of her job, a bureaucratic agency head must make two related decisions: which policies to pursue and how hard (if at all) she should try to change policy. Regarding the first decision, chapter 4 demonstrated that career path affects the diffusion of professional innovations: bureaucrats hired from outside are more...

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6. Ramps and Ladders: How Career Systems Foster or Inhibit Bureaucratic Entrepreneurship

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pp. 138-161

Chutes and Ladders is a popular children's board game sold in the United States by the Milton Bradley Company. The game is an adaptation of the English board game Snakes and Ladders, which is itself an adaptation of the traditional Hindu game Leela.1 Chutes and Ladders is played on a square board marked out into one hundred smaller, numbered squares. Players...

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7. What Bureaucratic Ambition Means for Democracy

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pp. 162-182

Unhappy with the condition of his police department, Mayor Jerry Abramson of Louisville, Kentucky, went shopping for a new chief and found one in Robert C. White.1 On arriving in Louisville, Chief White introduced a series of reorganizations and disciplinary policies to change a department with a disturbing record of violence and adversarial relationship with several...

Appendix A: Survey Methodology

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pp. 183-187

Appendix B: Supplementary Regression Analysis Results

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pp. 188-189


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pp. 191-199


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pp. 201-213


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pp. 215-222

E-ISBN-13: 9781421403762
E-ISBN-10: 1421403765
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421402451
Print-ISBN-10: 1421402459

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 17 line drawings
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Johns Hopkins Studies in Governance and Public Management
Series Editor Byline: Kenneth J. Meier and Laurence J. O'Toole Jr., Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 792928993
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bureaucratic Ambition

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Local government -- United States.
  • Bureaucracy -- United States.
  • Ambition -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Administrative agencies -- United States -- Management.
  • Public administration -- United States.
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