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Legislatures, Bureaucracies, and Distributive Spending

  • MICHAEL M. TING (a1)

This article develops a theory of bureaucratic influence on distributive politics. Although there exists a rich literature on the effects of institutions such as presidents, electoral systems, and bicameralism on government spending, the role of professional bureaucrats has yet to receive formal scrutiny. In the model, legislators bargain over the allocation of distributive benefits across districts. The legislature may either “politicize” a program by bargaining directly over pork and bypassing bureaucratic scrutiny, or “professionalize” it by letting a bureaucrat approve or reject project funding in each district according to an underlying quality standard. The model predicts that the legislature will professionalize when the expected program quality is high. However, politicization becomes more likely as the number of high-quality projects increases and under divided government. Further, more competent bureaucrats can encourage politicization if the expected program quality is low. Finally, politicized programs are larger than professionalized programs.

Corresponding author
Michael M. Ting is Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs, Columbia University, 420 West 118th Street, New York NY 10027 (
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American Political Science Review
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