Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
doi: 10.1111/padm.12113
What determines the bureaucratic agenda? This article combines insights from models of bureau-
cratic behaviour with agenda-setting models of government attention to test the effects of elected
government, public, and EU agendas on the bureaucratic agenda. Using time series cross-sectional
analyses of subject and ministry coded data on UK statutory instruments from 1987 to 2008, I nd
strong effects for both the elected government and EU legislative agendas on UK statutory instru-
ments. Furthermore, by breaking the data into differentsets based on their relationship with the EU,
several logical differences in these effects are found. These results include the EU agenda having
exclusive inuence on instruments implementing EU directives, and the UK agenda being the sole
driver of bureaucratic attention on those instruments that mention the EU but do not implement
EU legislation. This article opens a new avenue for research on bureaucracy by approaching it as a
unique policy-making institution.
A functional bureaucracy, despite all the jokes to the contrary, is what makes a democracy
work. Without the effective administration of government, none of the activities of gov-
ernment would mean anything, with policies going both unimplemented and unenforced.
However, we generally understand very little about how government bureaucracies allo-
cate their attention. Even within governments bureaucratic agents face many competing
concerns from a purely institutional perspective. In many systems the choice of which
issues the bureaucracy attends to is largely autonomous, with limited direct signals from
elected government highlighting the need for more robust investigations of bureaucratic
attention (e.g. Neustadt 1969; Hood and Lodge 2006).
The functioning of the bureaucracy has of course been written about before, from
investigations into the behaviour of bureaucrats (e.g. Wilson 1989) to the multiple dis-
cussions concerning principal–agent theory (e.g. Strøm 2000). Further, in-depth studies
of bureaucratic activities such as in the UK oftentimes show the generally professional
nature of the fourth branch of government (e.g. Page 2001, 2003). While these studies have
done much to further our understanding of government administration, they fall short
when it comes to understanding how bureaucratic attention is allocated. To address this
shortcoming, I propose the combination of theories on bureaucratic behaviour with the
growing literature and increased data efforts focused on government agendas and agenda
implementation. By combining knowledge about the bureaucratic process with a research
tradition based on determining policy attention, I am able to look beyond bureaucracy as
a tool for policy-making and to regard it as a separate actor with its own unique agenda.
This article represents a signicant step forward in quantitative research of bureau-
cracy through a model of bureaucratic responsiveness using a new dataset of UK statu-
tory instruments, the main form of secondary legislation in the UK, from 1987 to 2008.
The bureaucracy, dened as the bureaucrats, ministers, and ministries writing and sign-
ing secondary legislation, is central to the Westminster style of government due to the
Shaun Bevan is at MZES, University of Mannheim, Germany.
Public Administration Vol.93, No. 1, 2015 (139–158)
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
UK’s low levels of primary legislation. The results presented here indicate that the UK
bureaucracy follows its principal, the UK’s elected government, well beyond what is nec-
essary for the implementation of primary legislation as demonstrated by the exclusion
of statutory instruments used to mark-up recent Acts of Parliament from the analyses.
While the effects of European Union (EU) attention are weaker, the EU also clearly affects
bureaucratic attention. Furthermore, by breaking the data into differentsets based on their
relationship with the EU, several logical differences in these effectsare found. These results
include the UK-centric nding that elected government attention has the lone effect on
those instruments that only mention the EU, but that EU attention has the lone effect on
those instruments that directly implement EU directives.
The rest of this article takes the following form. It rst discusses existing research
on the bureaucracy as an institution and various lessons from agenda-setting research
focused on government responsiveness and agenda implementation, leading to a set of
hypotheses concerning the content of the bureaucracy’s agenda. The data and methods are
discussed next, including an in-depth discussion of the various versions of the dependent
variable based on different coding rules and subsamples within statutory instruments.
The analyses using time series cross-sectional models are then presented. The article
concludes by summarizing the results and discussing the broader implications of the
ndings presented here.
Most studies of the bureaucracy tend to focus on its functioning and effectiveness as an
institution rather than on how its agenda is formulated. This focus is in many ways due
to the focus on agency,namely principal–agent theories that discuss how the bureaucracy
can be moulded and sanctioned in order for it to perform its duties of implementation,
enforcement, and beyond (Strøm 2000). While all bureaucracies are a political agent
designed to serve elected government, the possibility of shirking responsibilities and
power grabs focused on other parts of the bureaucracy keep the process anything but
clean (Wilson 1989).
Having more than one principal in systems with a strong separation of powers between
the various branches of government is another clear complicating factor (Strøm 2000). The
delegation of responsibilities can be another important complication as the responsibili-
ties of the bureaucracy grow with their principal(s) telling them to react to and serve other
actors directly. The process of delegation has become increasingly common over time for
various reasons such as blame shifting, or less dire goals such as the effective administra-
tion of government (Fiorina 1982; Kiewiet and McCubbins 1991). In this way, bureaucrats
are often told to serve the public and act as the contact point for communication between
the government and the public (Vigoda 2002). This relationshipcan have signicant results
on bureaucratic activities and the resulting policies based on responsiveness to the gen-
eral public will (Stewart and Ranson 1994), with some of the most successful examples of
effective lobbying occurring between the bureaucracy and the actors it was told to serve
(e.g. Yackee and Yackee 2006).
Delegation in the UK has also taken another turn with the responsibility for implement-
ing EU legislation, namely EU directives falling at the feet of the bureaucracy with the
European Communities Acts 1972 (OPSI 2006, pp. 72–73; House of Commons 2008). This
Act of Parliament gave the bureaucracy the authority and the obligation to implement EU
policy without the need to confer with elected ofcials. The relationship between elected
Public Administration Vol.93, No. 1, 2015 (139–158)
© 2014 John Wiley& Sons Ltd.

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