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Research

I aim to make careful, relevant contributions to the study of political institutions, public administration, and public policy. I am motivated by a belief that scholarship contributes knowledge and values vital for maintaining robust and responsive governing institutions. Here are a few research projects I’m working on:

Mixed Results: Measurement and Reform in American Government

My dissertation, “The Politics of Results: Comprehensive Reform and Institutional Choice” (2006) examines the institutional politics of recent broad-based management reforms designed to promote the use of performance measurement in U.S. federal agencies. It was recognized with the American Political Science Association’s 2008 Leonard D. White award for outstanding dissertation in the field of public administration.  I’m working on a book manuscript based on the dissertation, entitled “Mixed Results: Congress, the Presidency, and the Politics of Performance.” Two chapters from the dissertation are standalone articles:

As I mull the book project, I’ve also written a number of other papers that have helped develop and extend my thinking.

Appointees

CPAP colleagues Patrick Roberts, Sang Choi, and I are engaged in a long-term research project on the role of president-appointed, Senate-confirmed federal agency administrators in American government.

Abstract: We examine patterns of appointee continuity during the presidential administrations of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush using data tracking Senate-confirmed agency appointee tenure, turnover, and vacancies between 1989 and 2009. Surveying existing scholarship on the link between appointee continuity and organizational performance, we highlight opportunities to expand research in this field. Though efforts to “fix” the rules governing agency appointments may be as inevitable as the appointee process is in some basic respects unfixable, we conclude by advocating a far less ambitious goal: a measure of clarity.

In addition to contributing to developing scholarly research on appointees, this project also aims to inform public deliberation about the role of presidential appointees in the American political system. Here are a couple recent Op-Ed’s Patrick and I have written about the subject in Roll Call in The Hill.

Oversight

Abstract: Are congressional committee investigations into alleged executive-branch wrongdoing more common during periods of divided government? We analyze original data tracking congressional committee investigations into alleged fraud, waste, and abuse by the executive branch between 1947 and 2004. Countering David Mayhew’s (1991) empirical finding, we show that divided government generates more and more intensive congressional investigations, but this relationship is contingent on partisan and temporal factors. Our findings shed new light on the shifting dynamic between partisan institutional politics and congressional oversight.

Policy Research

Abstract: This paper examines social, economic, and political factors influencing the distribution of resources to local governments under the EPA Brownfields Program, a prominent recent innovation in federal environmental policy geared toward voluntary remediation and redevelopment of contaminated properties known as brownfields. Passed in 2002 with the Bush administration’s support, the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act provided the program with a congressional mandate, new tools to promote reuse such as liability protections, and increased funding up to a level of $250 million per year. This paper contributes to research on the administration of voluntary programs with an analysis of successful and unsuccessful local government applicants for EPA Brownfields Program support between 2003 and 2007. Building on prior research, a series of expectations and an empirical model are developed, estimating the influence of program priorities, government and civic capacity, interest group pressures, and institutional politics. Results point to modest evidence supporting explicit program priorities guide award patters; evidence better-resourced governments, prior applicants, and applicants with powerful institutional representation enjoy expected advantages; and evidence that the distribution of Brownfields awards may run contrary to the aims of environmental equity. The paper’s conclusion discusses a handful of potential revisions and extensions to the analysis.

Abstract: The drive during the 1990’s to make public agencies more “customer-focused” in the 1990’s have led many public organizations to dedicate resources dedicated customer surveys and other research designed to gauge customer or constituent attitudes. In many cases these resources have been expended on data that is of little use to managers. This project, based on the efforts within the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, develops a simple framework for thinking about how to ensure data are useful for managers. The paper is available in the Transportation Research Circular No. E-C052 (July 2003).

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