restricted access Chapter 6. Steering Agencies with Reauthorizations
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6 Steering Agencies with Reauthorizations Congress plays a key role in shaping federal agencies and the policies that they implement. Congress creates agencies through the legislative process, funds their operations through the appropriations process, structures the policies Congress will implement, and determines the actors with whom congressional members will work. As David Rosenbloom (2000) has noted, Congress reshaped itself after World War II in order to have better oversight and control over the administrative state. In less than two months in the summer of 1946, Congress passed the Legislative Reorganization Act (LRA) and the Administrative Procedures Act, with the explicit goal of better controlling federal agencies. “Agencies were reconceptualized as extensions of the legislature and, to some extent, its processes ” (Rosenbloom 2000, 2). Given that the goal of the LRA was to create greater watchfulness over agencies, there has often been a sharp focus on hearings in the study of oversight, and for good reason. Hearings are an important tool in a committee ’s repertory as they seek out information. Committee members want to have a clear understanding of the relationship between policies and their outcomes (Krehbiel 1991), and hearings are one mechanism they use to gather information. Additionally, hearings reap benefits for the committee ’s members beyond the collection of information; they are a focal point for the credit claiming, position taking, and advertising that members use to retain their jobs (Mayhew 1974). Furthermore, hearings allow members to receive recognition in their home states, often by bringing local witnesses to testify. However, hearings are but one way that Congress is able to shape agency behavior. The reauthorization process is another key mechanism that Congress uses to oversee the federal bureaucracy and the vast networks that are involved in implementing public programs. By revisiting the sta72 Hall_CH6_3rd.qxd 8/16/2004 4:53 PM Page 72 tus of a given program at set intervals, Congress is able to steer policy much in the same way that a captain steers a ship. Congress can gather information about a program between reauthorizations and then use this information to determine the direction and speed that the program should go for the next several years. If all is well, Congress may expand the scope of the program so that it can serve a larger client base. If the program is going to hit something—like the interest of an important group or the jurisdiction of another agency—Congress can move the program in another direction. Through reauthorizations, Congress plays a key role in forming the governance structures that shape the policy world (e.g., Lynn, Heinrich, and Hill 2001). In the study of congressional oversight there is often a sharp focus on hearings, and for good reason. Hearings are an important tool in a committee ’s repertory as they seek out information. Committee members want to have a clear understanding of the relationship between policies and their outcomes (Krehbiel 1991), and hearings are one mechanism they use to gather information. Additionally, hearings reap benefits for the committee ’s members beyond the collection of information; they are a focal point for the credit claiming, position taking, and advertising that members use to retain their jobs (Mayhew 1974). Furthermore, hearings allow members to receive recognition in their home states, often by bringing local witnesses to testify. In this chapter, I focus on how the renewal of a program’s authorization facilitates a different type of control by Congress, the ex ante control that is exerted when laws are made or modified in a way that regulates the behavior of agencies and other policy players in a detailed, prescriptive manner. Ex ante control requires policy makers to be visionary as they seek to regulate actions in a way that promotes effective outcomes and avoids adverse consequences. This method of control also has implications for the implementation and management of the programs in question. The stability that arises from reauthorizing a given program only at fixed intervals is important for all actors in the process. All policy actors can know that procedures and rules can be put in place that will not be disrupted for a given period. Three case studies are presented to illustrate how ex ante control works in a reauthorization environment. By examining Head Start, mass transit, and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission in detail, it is possible to see how Congress shapes these programs over time and changes their dynamics with each reauthorization. These changes often result in shifts in the structure of the...


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Subject Headings

  • Budget process -- United States.
  • Budget -- United States.
  • United States. Congress -- Committees.
  • Government spending -- United States -- Decision making.
  • United States -- Appropriations and expenditures -- Decision making.
  • Policy sciences.
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