A Dynamic Measure of Bureaucratic Reputation: New Data for New Theory

Forthcoming, American Journal of Political Science

Bureaucratic reputation is one of the most important concepts used to understand the behaviour of administrative agencies and their interactions with multiple audiences. Despite a rich theoretical literature discussing reputation, we do not have a comparable measure across agencies, between countries, and over time. I present a new strategy to measure bureaucratic reputation from legislative speeches with word-embedding techniques. I introduce an original dataset on the reputation of 465 bureaucratic bodies over a period of forty years, and across two countries, the US and the UK. I perform several validation tests and present an application of this method to investigate whether partisanship and agency politicisation matter for reputation. I find that agencies enjoy a better reputation among the members of the party in government, with partisan differences less pronounced for independent bodies. I finally discuss how this measurement strategy can contribute to classical and new questions about political-administrative interactions.

Working Papers

The Costs of Populism for the Bureaucracy and Government Performance: Evidence from Italian Municipalities

with Massimo Morelli and Matia Vannoni

Covered by

We study the consequences of populism for bureaucratic quality and government performance. When voters lose trust in representative democracy, populists strategically supply policy commitments that are easier to monitor for voters. When elected, populists replace expert bureaucrats - who would undermine the implementation of the populist agenda - with non-experts. We use novel data on about 8,000 municipalities in Italy, over a period of 20 years, and we estimate the effect of electing a populist mayor with a close-election regression discontinuity design. We find that the election of a populist mayor leads to (1) higher turnover among top bureaucrats; (2) a decrease in the percentage of graduate bureaucrats; (3) a decrease in the ability of government to repay debts; and (4) a lower share of paid procurement contracts. These results contribute to the literature on populism, bureaucratic appointment, and government performance.

Bureaucrats, Politicians, and the Strategic Use of Information

The political control of the bureaucracy remains a classical topic in political science. However, little is known about its reverse: bureaucracies influencing politicians. I conceptualise bureaucratic influence as the extent to which legislators use the information produced by agencies in the legislative process. Building on cheap talk models of strategic communication, I argue that legislators make greater use of bureaucratic information when ideologically closer to agencies and that agency independence – operating as a credibility-enhancing mechanism – mitigates the effect of ideological distance. I introduce a new measurement strategy to estimate legislators’ use of bureaucratic information which employs syntactic analysis and apply it to a corpus of 6.8 million speeches given by US congresspersons in floor and committee speeches. I find that ideological distance reduces politicians’ use of bureaucratic information, but only in floor speeches. This suggests that in congressional committees, and less partisan arenas, ideology matters less for bureaucratic influence.

Is Partisanship Bad for Bureaucratic Accountability?

Bureaucratic accountability rests on the ability of legislators to obtain information about bureaucracies. Yet how legislators process this information is an understudied topic. I argue that legislators follow partisan motives when updating their beliefs about bureaucracy. I introduce new estimates of partisan beliefs about 336 agencies over 40 years in the UK and the US using natural language processing techniques. I find that beliefs about bureaucracy are on average more positive by 3 percentage points for the governing party, irrespective of partisan congruence and ideological distance between the party and the agency. I show how bias follows from beliefs to behaviour. When co-partisan with the government, legislators’ speeches about bureaucratic agencies are less grounded in quantitative evidence and legislators are less likely to oversee ideologically distant agencies. The bias that stems from legislators’ partisan alignment with the government may hinder their ability to hold bureaucracy to account.

It’s Not All About Spending: The Fiscal Commons in the Italian Comuni

The literature on government composition and fiscal policy is unanimous on theory though discordant on findings. Known as the fiscal commons problem, theory predicts more politicians lead to inefficiencies, but findings are mixed. With new data on Italian municipalities, I estimate the effect of government composition on a battery of planned and actual budget outcomes. I leverage two reforms implemented in 2011 and estimate treatment effects with a difference-in-differences and a difference-in-discontinuities designs. I find that more politicians plan to spend more and make more deficit. However, the effects disappear when looking at actual budget items. I find that more politicians actually lead to less deficit and have no effects on spending. I discuss how these findings are consistent with politicians signalling increasing public good provision, while ensuring fiscal discipline.