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Texas Politics - Bureaucracy
Geanie Morrison on legislators using lobblyists' information Geanie Morrison on legislators using lobblyists' information
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Iron triangles, aka subgovernments Iron triangles, aka subgovernments
Theories of economic regulation Theories of economic regulation
iron triangles
revolving door
4.3    Interest Groups

The legislative power to control the bureaucracy can be offset or supplemented by pressure elsewhere in the political system. One of the more important sources of support or opposition to the doings of bureaucratic departments and agencies is interest groups, particularly well-financed interest groups that are focused on narrow areas of public policy.

Well funded interest groups can use a variety of tools to shape and influence the bureaucracy. Perhaps the most powerful tool these groups use is support (financial and otherwise) for the political campaigns of the various officials who run for the top jobs in the executive branch: governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, etc. They can also seek to influence gubernatorial appointments to some of the hundreds of appointive positions on the 200 or so state boards and commissions. Appointment to the more powerful boards and commissions often requires significant support in the form of campaign contributions to the governor.

Interest groups can directly influence the bureaucracy in other ways, including offering private sector employment to cooperative public servants. This phenomenon by which bureaucratic officials leave public service to work for the very companies and people they used to regulate or otherwise oversee is known as the revolving door. Nice jobs in the private sector might be seen simply as payback for previous cooperation from public employees. But the dynamic of the "revolving door" is typically more complex than mere payback or cashing in. Former public officials have a lot to offer their new employers, including a wealth of expertise on relevant subject matter and governmental processes, plus personal contacts that are a - some would say the - core asset to doing successful political business in Austin.

Interest groups also seek to use their influence in the legislature to affect the bureaucracy. As discussed earlier, the legislature has the ultimate constitutional authority to regulate the bureaucracy. Interest groups provide a wide variety of goods and services to legislators in exchange for favorable action on state programs. For example, they often provide jobs to retiring legislators and those defeated in elections. On a day to day basis, they often draft language for bills that are introduced in the legislature, providing a service to overworked legislative offices while giving interest groups a shot at shaping the law they want right from the start. Not surprisingly, when asked about their relationship with interest groups, legislators often suggest that lobbyists are simply good sources of information that inform independent decision making. In a Texas Politics video interview (also presented in the Interest Groups chapter), Representative Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) cited lobbyists and interest groups as essentially one source of information among many.

The various tools and techniques (including personal and professional relationships) that interest groups use to influence bureaucratic decision-making has caused considerable cynicism about whether bureaucratic agencies serve the general public or only powerful narrow interests. One answer to this question comes from the so-called "capture theory" of regulation which holds that agencies create and enforce rules in ways that most favor the groups or organizations they are supposed to be regulating.

This notion implies that the individual regulatory agencies of the government have been carved out by the most powerful interests concerned with each area of public policy. Rather than forming a coherent whole, the bureaucracy in this view is really a collection of fragmented and isolated bits, each dominated by one or two major economic interest groups. As discussed in the Interest Groups chapter, a number of factors give interest groups with concentrated resources and focused interests a distinct advantage in the political arena. These advantages also apply to dealings with the bureaucracy.

The preceding discussion identifies a series of bilateral relationships: interest groups with bureaucratic departments and agencies; interest groups with legislators (usually those who sit on key legislative committees); legislators with bureaucratic departments and agencies. The notion that there is a logical tendency toward close collaboration between specific interest groups, the bureaucratic departments and agencies that most impact them, and the relevant representatives and committees in the legislature underlies the concept of iron triangles. This concept is also illustrated in this chapter's diagram Iron Triangles, aka Subgovernments.

The concept of the iron triangle sketches in shorthand a more extensive debate over the interaction between government and private interests and its impact on public policy, particularly economic regulation. The Texas Politics feature Theories of Economic Regulation examines competing views of the relationships between private interests and government.

These debates can turn on relatively nuanced arguments over the degree of competition, but the larger debate goes straight to the heart of democratic practice. What smacks of anti-democratic collaboration to some seems to others like a logical result of common interests and expertise - an example of pluralism in action. Interpreting and understanding the relationships among bureaucrats, legislators, and the representatives of various interests remains difficult because the subject bumps up against the central theoretical debates over the nature of democracy and representation. The basic questions of who gets to exercise how much influence on the decision making process, and how, is often concerned with the branches of government headed by elected officials and on the dynamics of elections and campaigns. But the extensive role of bureaucracies in making and implementing policy means that bureaucratic activity broaches the same questions, and makes these questions perhaps even more difficult to answer definitively.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 116
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