Explaining bureaucratic power in intergovernmental relations: A network approach

AuthorYvonne Hegele
Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
Explaining bureaucratic power in
intergovernmental relations: A network approach
Yvonne Hegele
Leibniz Center for Science and Society, Leibniz
University, Hannover, Germany
Yvonne Hegele, Leibniz Center for Science and
Society, Leibniz University Hannover, Lange
Laube 32, 30159 Hannover, Germany.
Email: yvonne.hegele@lcss.uni-hannover.de
The core assumption of the bureaucratic politics model and a large
part of public administration scholarship is that bureaucrats influ-
ence politicians and political decisions via their crucial role in pre-
paring, coordinating and formulating policy. While this influence
has been analysed in a vertical direction, that is, how much do
bureaucrats influence politicians, the horizontal perspective has
been mostly neglected: which bureaucrats are most powerful and
influential during the process of bureaucratic coordination and
decision-making? Deducing hypotheses from bargaining theory and
testing them with a novel network dataset on German Intergovern-
mental Relations (IGR), this contribution finds that bureaucrats
indeed possess varying degrees of power. Jurisdictional and organi-
zational power resources, such as voting, financial and institutional
power, and also party politics, can best explain these variances in
bureaucratic power. Personal characteristics, such as experience
and education, however, are not used as power resources.
The preparation of policy decisions is one of the core tasks of ministerial bureaucracies. Bureaucrats are in charge of
choosing, formulating and coordinating public policy as well as negotiating with actors within and outside the
politico-administrative system. They prepare policy for the head of department and government or take decisions
(e.g., Peters and Pierre 2016). By doing so, bureaucrats carry out political tasks and can potentially influence political
decisions. This influence can be exerted indirectly due to the role, organization and responsibilities of public officials
as administrative working units in government (Mayntz and Scharpf 1975). In many instances, bureaucrats also take
decisions without the involvement of politicians, which is the most direct form of influence on the political process
(Page 2012). The strength of the bureaucratic influence thereby varies according to the stage of the policy process
and the institutional structure of government (Schnapp 2004). Furthermore, the influence and power of bureaucrats
can vary with the structural and procedural role a certain public administration takes on during the process of policy-
making (Hartlapp et al. 2013). Thus, some bureaucratic organizations or even individual bureaucrats can be more
influential and powerful than others. Yet little is known about which bureaucrats are more powerful in influencing
the political process.
Building on these key insights into bureaucratic influence and power, this contribution aims at developing a
framework to explain differences in influence and power between ministerial bureaucrats. Based on the propositions
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12537
Public Administration. 2018;96:753768. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/padm © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 753
of the bureaucratic politics model, it is argued that bureaucrats from different bureaucratic organizations pursue
varying preferences. To pursue these preferences, they have varying power resources at their disposal. Based on the
bargaining power framework (Bailer 2010), these power resources will be explored.
Measuring power and determining power resources is difficult. Most approaches compare initial positions with
final decisions to estimate how much of the actorsinterests prevailed. Such an approach is problematic for several
reasons, for example strategic signalling (Coddington 1968; Snyder and Diesing 1977), but it is especially problematic
when studying the power of bureaucrats. While politiciansinitial positions are often public, bureaucratsare not
because they usually are not public figures. To circumvent these problems, this contribution proposes a new way of
measuring bureaucratic power by using social network analysis. Bureaucrats and their coordination and negotiation
relations can be conceptualized as networks. Those actors who are most central in the coordination and negotiation
process are then assumed to be more powerful during the decision-making process. This conceptualization enables
estimating which factors impact on the power and centrality of bureaucrats.
The question of power and influence of bureaucrats is most pronounced in situations which require intensive
coordination and negotiation and in which a high number of bureaucrats are involved. IGR, meaning processes of
joint decision-making among a number of government executives in multi-level states, represent such an occasion.
For this reason, the power of bureaucratic actors in IGR will be analysed in this contribution. Establishing a frame-
work of analysis and testing it with the most-likely case of Germany is an important step towards a broader and com-
parative analysis of the power of various bureaucrats in decision-making processes.
The bureaucratic politics model (Allison and Halperin 1972; Allison and Zelikow 1999) argues that government deci-
sions can only be properly understood if they are conceptualized as a result of the aggregate of individual decisions
and actions by several actors within this government. A core assumption of the model is that bureaucrats develop
different preferences, objectives and goals, which stem from various conceptions of national organizational,
domestic and personal interest(Allison and Halperin 1972, p. 43). At heart, these various conceptions originate from
the high levels of delegation and specialization which are typical for modern governments (Bouckaert et al. 2010).
These bureaucrats with their varying preferences try to influence politicians in their decision-making. The model pays
attention to the preferences of bureaucrats and the mechanisms through which these are aggregated into a
government decision (Hartlapp et al. 2013, p. 427).
The present contribution focuses not primarily on the interests of bureaucrats per se, but on their powerto influ-
ence the decision-making processes. The fact that they possess varying interests thereby makes it necessary for
them to use their power to influence the decision-making process. Power as a concept is defined in the bureaucratic
politics model as effective influence on government decisions and actions(Allison and Zelikow 1999, p. 300). Power
thus is the ability of an actor to direct the decision-making process in the desired direction using the available means
to achieve the actors preferred outcome (Schneider and Bailer 2002, p. 52). These means are called power resources
in what follows. Bureaucrats possess unevenly distributed power resources which they can use to influence the gov-
ernment decision (Allison and Halperin 1972). These can be resources in the strictest sense, such as financial means,
implicit resources such as veto threats, but also personal characteristics such as experience. Yet, little systematic
knowledge exists about what these resources are and how they are distributed among bureaucrats. To advance
knowledge on this topic, the present contribution develops propositions about power resources which bureaucrats
can make use of when trying to influence decision-making processes. While there are certainly further actors, such
as parties and interests groups, which try to influence political decisions, this analysis concentrates on the process of
bureaucratic decision-making. The power of the bureaucratic actors is analysed in relation to each other and not to
other sources of influence.

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