Learning From Oversight: Fire Alarms and Police Patrols Reconstructed

Arthur Lupia
Mathew D. McCubbins, Duke Law School

Document Type Article


While the delegation of policy-making authority from legislators to bureaucrats is ubiquitous in modern democracies, there is considerable disagreement about the consequences of this type of delegation. Some scholars point to the fact that bureaucrats tend to have policy-relevant expertise, assume that bureaucrats will use their expertise to systematically mislead legislators, and conclude that delegation and abdication are equivalent. Other scholars point to the extensive use of legislative oversight, assume that oversight is sufficient to abate the problems associated with bureaucratic expertise, and conclude that delegation produces more effective governance. We depart from previous scholarship by developing models of delegation and oversight that allow us to derive, rather than assume, conditions under which legislators can adapt successfully to bureaucratic expertise. With these conditions in hand, we identify conditions under which delegation to the bureaucracy produces more effective governance and conditions under which delegation and abdication are equivalent.