Book Report: Public Policy Processes and Analytical Approaches Critical

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Public Policy Processes and Analytical Approaches

Critical Book Review- David E. Lewis, the Politics of Presidential Appointments:

Lewis, David. 2008. The Politics of Presidential Appointments: Political Control Public Policy Processes and Analytical Approaches

Critical Book Review:

The Politics of Presidential Appointments: Political Control and Bureaucratic Performance (2008)

PAPA 6214 Public Policy Processes and Analytical Approaches - Professor Patrick Roberts

Stacey Shindelar

David E. Lewis' book on political appointment in the United States has been considered to be one of the most important writings in the field of public policies of the last years. This is largely due to the fact that the book in itself represents a comprehensive view and analysis on the way in which appointments are achieved at the high level of local and federal administrations. The main issue of the book revolves around the way in which competences are taken into account when political appointment is achieved and the results such a strategy brings

This critical review focuses on several key questions, including discussion of the main arguments of the book, assumptions made about the role of public policies, strengths and weaknesses of the book, and positive contributions to the specialized literature as well as the general reader of the book.

Main Arguments

The organization of the book is based on two severe questions raised especially by the poor management of the relief response to hurricane Katrina which hit the United States in 2005. Given the major impact the disaster had on the population in the area of New Orleans in particular, questions on the effectiveness of political appointment in key areas of the administration arose. The poor management of the relief response to Hurricane Katrina is used as a triggering point for Lewis's dilemma on appointments. As an illustrative case, it is important because this hurricane had a major impact on the Gulf Coast region, particularly on the population of New Orleans, and precipitated considerable public debate about the effectiveness of political appointment for key roles in the administration. Lewis addressed two specific questions related to this political and administrative dilemma. These specific questions included a focus on the proportion of appointments among agencies; more precisely, the author raises the question on the actual policies which promote appointments in some agencies as opposed to other agencies (Lewis, 2008, 1). The second aspect of the book focuses on the imact these appointments have on the management and relief response.

Lewis presents a historical view of the practice of appointment. He notes that the practice of political appointment, although it has always played a role in the management of American politics, has became increasingly common during the New Deal period (the 1930s), when the need for control of the administrative role of the executive branch arose. This was in contrast to the early political practice in the United States; for example, during the 1820s, the role of political influence in appointing public servants was dramatically reduced, with only high-level appointments being made by the President. This can be contrasted to the modern condition, in which over two thousand political appointments are made throughout the executive branch. Lewis notes that this is considered to lead to better coordination among individuals that share the political orientation, background, and views of the administration, and reduces conflict within the ranks of the organization. However, Lewis considers that this politicization of administrative roles does not lead to efficient performance; instead, it consistently interferes with effective performance. In fact, Lewis characterizes politicized agencies as the least effective agencies within the government. Lewis defines the politicized agency as "those (agencies) that have the largest percentage and deepest penetration of appointees (Lewis 2008, p2)." The ratio of civil servants and political appointees can be viewed, according to Lewis, as a function of responsibility and remuneration. Additionally, the role of the political appointee is usually consistent with a higher level of political influence than the civil employee led organization.

Lewis suggested a specific tie between the appointment of higher officials in the organization and the efficiency of the organization. He used a specific analysis of several agencies with varying levels of appointed and civil employees, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the crisis management agency that was at the center of the Hurricane Katrina response and the agency that received much of the blame for mismanagement of this response. According to the author, "FEMA's weak response cost hundreds of lives and contributed to incalculable pain and suffering (Lewis, 2008, p. 1)." One of the most significant factors cited in FEMA's response failure by the press, as well as public opinion, was the unusually large number of political appointees (Lewis, 2008). FEMA's director, Michael Brown, had little experience with crisis response; however, he did have substantial political connections to the administration (Lewis, 2008). Thus, this was found by Lewis to be the ideal case subject for the analysis of the effects of political appointment on the efficiency of an organization. Lewis's general conclusion regarding the relationship between political appointments and agency efficiency is that the use of political appointments has a negative effect on agency efficiency and effectiveness.

Assumptions Regarding Public Policy

There are a number of assumptions regarding public policy that are made by Lewis. One assumption that is made is that the American government can be directly compared to the governments of European countries such as France or Britain. While in general, there are several similarities between European democracies and American government, there are several ways this does not hold up. For example, the division of government into local, state, and federal levels is not reflected in most of these other governments, and increased levels of government do influence the number of individuals (either civil servants or political employees) required for government to function efficiently. A second assumption is that presidential changes bring change in the political employees. Indeed, this is a major element to be taken into account and it has its premises and considerations. More precisely, changing the major players from the Supreme Court in a country where the Supreme Court plays a crucial role is justifiable. The powers of the Court in the United States are vital and it is only natural that the new president changes the old relevant actors in this area. However, it cannot be ruled out the quality of performance when change occurs. Better said, change does not necessarily bring about a decrease in performance.

Another possible assumption would be that political appointments are by definition a negative aspect of the administration. The author fails to mention it in particular, but it is obvious from the information provided, especially in the first part of his book that political appointments are viewed as a negative practice in the United States. Surely, there are several examples such as the FEMA which would indicate that political appointments sometimes harm the office of appointment, but at the same time, there are situations in which political appointments produce performance and thus hold office for the entire mandate of the president and even longer. This is to point out that such a premises which denies a reasonable doubt on the relation between political appointment and performance could subjectively influence the results of the analysis because it does not take into account all parts and aspects of the issue under discussion. In the case of Lewis's book, the research is well documented and enables a much wider perspective than that initially offered by its starting premises.

Perhaps the most important assumption made by Lewis is that the structure of political appointment is by nature limited. Lewis noted that professional bureaucrats (i.e. civil servants), under Weber's view, develop specific skills, networks, and relationships that allow them to become effective in their role within the bureaucracy, and yet are still limited to an advisory role by the structure of the political environment, which requires that elected officials be put in charge. (in this case, political appointees, who are subject to removal on change of political regime or at the whim of their appointer, can be seen as an extension of the elected regime, although they themselves are not elected). Thus, the professional bureaucrat, who has the knowledge to run the organization, is forced to convince the politician, who does or does not know, what the right course of action is, which is contrary to the goals of an efficient, professional public service. Lewis's choice of FEMA's handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster clearly indicates that the assumption being made is that the effectiveness of government is compromised by the use of political appointments. However, this is not necessarily indicative of all agency conditions, and Lewis does not challenge his views regarding the efficiency of the appointed official by considering any counterexamples that have (or may have) provided substantially improved efficiency.

Strengths and Weaknesses

This book has a number of strengths and weaknesses that can be taken into account. The strengths of the book revolve around the depth of the analysis, which includes both qualitative and quantitative examinations [END OF PREVIEW]

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