Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



This paper examines the effects of centralized presidential policy-making, implemented through unilateral executive action, on the willingness of bureaucrats to exert effort and stay in the government. Extending models in organizational economics, we show that policy initiative by the president is a substitute for initiative by civil servants. Yet, total effort is enhanced when both work. Presidential centralization of policy often impels policy-oriented bureaucrats ("zealots") to quit rather than implement presidential policies they dislike. Those most likely to quit are a range of moderate bureaucrats. More extreme bureaucrats may be willing to wait out an opposition president in the hope of tempering future policy when an allied president is elected. As control of the White House alternates between ideologically opposed extreme presidents, policy-minded moderates are stripped from bureaucratic agencies leaving only policy extremists or poorly performing "slackers." These departures degrade policy initiative in moderate agencies.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Policy sciences, Political science, Executive orders, Executive power, Organizational behavior, Administrative agencies