Representation in the Fourth Branch of Government: A Closer Look at the Link between Employee Demographics and Client Outcomes
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Bureaucrats play a major part in implementing government programs and—ultimately—take on a policy making role in many contexts given the broad discretion bureaucrats often have as they go about their work. Representative bureaucracy theory suggests that unelected bureaucrats can serve as representatives of members of the public as they go about making policy by virtue of having shared demographic characteristics with some members of the public. Focusing mainly on the demographic characteristic of race, I consider various ways in which the demographic makeup of a bureaucracy might influence the extent to which that bureaucracy advances the interests of various segments of the public. After providing a theoretical framework, I conduct a series of empirical tests using large datasets of public organizations. Consistent with prior work, I generally find that clients of a particular race experience better outcomes when they are served by a bureaucracy that has more personnel who share their race. I also uncover several more novel findings. First, I measure two sets of bureaucratic values (representative role acceptance and general political ideology) and find that for the most part, differences in these values do not explain why bureaucracies with different racial compositions function differently. Second, I examine an example where the racial composition of a bureaucracy does not generally appear to affect bureaucratic outcomes and then find that effects do appear when bureaucratic clients have widely diverging service demands. Third, I find some evidence that differences in outcomes associated with bureaucratic racial composition are not fully explained by individual-level differences in bureaucratic behavior or client responses that fall along racial lines; instead, the racial composition of a bureaucracy appears to be related to bigger, organizational-level attributes of a bureaucracy. Fourth, minority bureaucrats appear to mostly benefit bureaucratic clients of their own race, with benefits not generally extending to clients belonging to other minority racial group. Taken as a whole, these results suggest the need for representative bureaucracy theory scholars to more carefully examine organizational context, bureaucratic values, and the tradeoffs inherent in bureaucratic decision-making.
Favero, Nathan Bradley (2016). Representation in the Fourth Branch of Government: A Closer Look at the Link between Employee Demographics and Client Outcomes. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from