Goals of This Exercise
- Illustrate the political and policy logistics of incrementalism and how they promote bureaucratic stability.
- Explore how incrementalism and congressional politics made it difficult to close outdated military bases in the United States and how Congress established institutional procedures to overcome that difficulty.
- Describe how and why members of Congress established institutional procedures to help them overcome a collective-action problem and to reconcile a dilemma posed by a conflict between their policy and re-election goals.
The Rationality Principle: all political behavior has a purpose.
The development of bureaucratic agencies is subject to both the goals of bureaucrats and the goals of the members of Congress who create and fund agencies, departments, and programs.
In pursuit of their goals to be re-elected, attain influence, and make good public policy, members of Congress face powerful incentives to expand and protect the bureaucracies that benefit their districts.
Economist Charles E. Lindblom argued that American public policy making is incremental; that is, policies change slowly over time. The logic of incremental policy making arises from the bureaucrat’s goal of maximizing the agency’s budget and influence in tandem with the goals of members of Congress.
Incremental changes in public policy have both a policy logic and a political logic.
Policy logic: incrementalism serves to promote stable, accretive policy development. As a result of this pattern of policy development, the government slowly focuses (by making what Lindblom called “successive limited comparisons”) on the ideal policy program and level of spending.
Political logic: this stable development of policy also serves the political goals of policy makers. Members of Congress like bringing home projects and federal funds to their districts. Indeed, with each successive year, members can bring more government funds and benefits to their constituents and, in turn, shore up their prospects for re-election.
However, a shortcoming of incremental policy making is that it cannot keep pace with quick and drastic changes.
Congressional Goals and Military Bases
During the Cold War, the United States appropriated massive amounts of federal dollars to build up the military.
Policy Logic: In a time of perpetual “war” and a race between the United States and the Soviet Union for military superiority, important policy goals were met by the military build-up.
Political Logic: At the same time, members of Congress would run for re-election by claiming credit for establishing, maintaining, and expanding military bases in their congressional districts.
The cooling off of the Cold War and the eventual demise of the Soviet Union led to a widespread recognition that America had more military bases than it needed and that the government could save billions of dollars by closing obsolete bases.
Still, because of the political logic of incrementalism and members’ goals to be re-elected, few members wanted to close military bases in their own districts.
Answer the following questions: