Vol. 16 No. 12 (December, 2006) pp.994-997


MADISON’S MANAGERS: PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND THE CONSTITUTION, by Anthony M. Bertelli and Laurence E. Lynn Jr. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2006. 224pp. Cloth $60.00. ISBN: 0801882621. Paper $25.00. ISBN: 0801883199.


Reviewed by Daniel Levin, Department of Political Science, University of Utah.  Email: daniel.levin [at] poli-sci.utah.edu.


Public administration is the Rodney Dangerfield of political science. Getting no respect within the larger discipline, public administration is increasingly taught in professional masters and doctoral programs that are institutionally and formally independent of political science departments at their institutions. Even when an active public administration program remains within a political science department, it has substantial difficulty reaching out to the other fields which seem less interested in public administration’s theoretical and methodological offerings. 


The single most important, and single most thankless, task of public administration theory is providing accounts of the proper roles of bureaucracies and bureaucrats. This is because public administration theory is solidly founded on something known as “the public interest.” Scholars in American politics, like summer camp veterans sent on one snipe hunt too many, have become so wary of sightings of this alleged “public interest” that they now dismiss its existence altogether, seemingly embarrassed by the whole thing. Nonetheless, the happy campers of public administration continue their search. Sometimes, in addition to the “public interest,” they declare their quarry to be “responsibility,” “accountability,” or “judgment.” 


In MADISON’S MANAGERS, Anthony Bertelli and Laurence Lynn attempt to connect contemporary theories of public management with several older traditions within the public administration literature. Most pertinent to readers of this review, they ground their own theoretical approach in the ability of public managers to negotiate their way through the constitutional structure of the United States as “managerial responsibility depends, in a constitutional sense, on official respect for the separation of powers and commitment to specific public service values” (p.x). In doing so, they revisit many of the earlier arguments about the nature of administrative law. Their work pays relatively little attention to either constitutional doctrine or the role of the courts in public administration. But, for those readers of this review interested in questions of administrative law, or who teach constitutional law in a public administration program, the text is worthwhile as a review of administrative theory, a useful reinterpretation of administrative law previous to World War II and the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, and as a promising, but limited, attempt to rethink theories of legislative and administrative delegation.


Like most academic works, MADISON’S MANAGERS includes both critique and positive theory. In their [*995] critical mode, Bertelli and Lynn attempt to reverse what they view as a series of missteps in administrative theory. They are interested in restoring “traditional” public administration theory, largely dating to the pre-World War II era, to a place of honor. Such theory began as a reformist discourse in response to old-style patronage and the congressional dominance model popular in the late 19th century. Traditional theory encouraged more systematic thought about the nature of delegation, valued scientific approaches to social problems, and, in its earliest forms, distinguished administration from politics; the later traditional school accepted a larger role for political values in administration. But, most pertinent to Bertelli and Lynn’s larger project, the traditional model was largely interested in locating public administration in relation to Congress and the Executive, with the courts an occasional but important presence; administrative law was vital to this understanding.


Bertelli and Lynn argue that public administration theory took a wrong turn after World War II. Theorists, such as Dwight Waldo, Herbert Simon, and Robert Dahl, took particular aim at the traditional school’s view of administration and politics as separate and at its pretensions to scientific management. The modern approach was less respectful of constitutional democracy, preferring a larger role for citizen and interest group participation in administrative decision-making and attempting to understand how administrators make decisions from their own organizational context. The more formal forms of political control external to administrative agencies, those often emphasized in constitutional and administrative law, moved into the background. Indeed, they claim that, in public administration, “administrative law is often regarded as something of a nuisance . . . the role of courts can go entirely unacknowledged . . . with possibly a passing reference to the distractions of institutional reform lawsuits” (p.10). Bertelli and Lynn are concerned that “the current and future state of the field neglect not only the role of administrative law, but also the implications of the separation of powers for democratic governance” (p.73).


This modern school’s neglect of administrative law is sufficiently serious in their eyes that they spend much of a chapter arguing that administrative law is, indeed, relevant to public administration. This chapter, their fourth, will be the most relevant for most readers of this review. Bertelli and Lynn provide a useful history of both academic and judicial approaches to delegation doctrine through the 20th century. But, as theorists of public administration, the lessons they draw differ somewhat from those of political scientists who focus on institutions. For instance, they read the Supreme Court’s decision in CHEVRON v. NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL (1984) as perpetuating the “congressional dominance” model of control over administrative agencies, and that it allows the “monster” of administrative discretion “to be unleashed only when Congress is too disinterested, too divided, or too inarticulate to show in statutory language that it cares about what an [*996] agency does” (p.99).  Many other authors, largely concerned with congressional inability to steer agency choices, view CHEVRON in a very different light, as enabling agency discretion whenever Congress has not been particularly clear, and seeing such lack of clarity as the norm, rather than an exception. At the same time, Bertelli and Lynn are also concerned that “presidential dominance” over administrators has also increased. In their view, the problem lies in insufficient discretion for public managers.


All of the above is background to Bertelli and Lynn’s construction of their positive theory. They argue that “responsibility is the most important unifying idea in the traditional literature of public administration” (p. 6), that “the theoretical significance and practical meaning of managerial responsibility remain underdeveloped” (p.6), that managerial responsibility involves “judgment, balance, rationality, and accountability” (p.12), and that all these “fully comport with constitutional requirements for the exercise of the managerial discretion that is inevitable in a separation of powers state” (p.12). Much of the book’s positive theory is as vague as this summary sounds, and is largely indifferent to the structural relationships between the constitutional branches, an odd turn of events after their previous insistence on the importance of constitutional norms. They are much beholden to game theory for their approach to the Constitution, which is largely treated as a problem of “mechanism design.” If there is one lesson they draw from the Constitution, it is that of separation of powers; they wish for public administrators to have areas of discretion in which they can exercise the professional and moral virtues invoked in their own theory of “managerial responsibility.” Management, not representation or “ordered liberty,” is the fundamental norm of the Constitution as read by Bertelli and Lynn.


Their constitutional theory centers on this set of propositions: “the American electorate’s problem is to select those persons to staff the administrative state who have some set of characteristics that will make the overall social welfare function implementable,” and that “the solution to that problem – the creation of an institutional mechanism characterized by judgment, balance, rationality and accountability – forms the basis for the administrative state and the default rules for delegations and political control mechanisms generally.” Accepting these propositions, “the primacy of the personnel function in the institution of public management then becomes clear” (p.125). This can be aided, in their approach, by a well-designed personnel system that consistently rewards administrators with a strong “public service motivation” and which avoids approaches, such as performance based pay, less compatible with such a design (pp.130-131). Ultimately, Bertelli and Lynn argue that judgment, balance, rationality, and accountability – their “four aspects of managerial responsibility” – “represent the basis of constitutional government as it relates to public administration” (p.141). None of these is closely connected to specific provisions of the Constitution, and the [*997] argument is more broadly normative and based in public administration theory than in constitutional theory. It is a conclusion which may satisfy theorists of public administration, but will likely leave most scholars working in the fields of constitutional theory and administrative law with more questions than they began with.





© Copyright 2006 by the author, Daniel Levin.