Slow-Rolling, Fast-Tracking, and the Pace of Bureaucratic Decisions in Rulemaking

From: The Journal of Politics

Volume 79, Number 3 | July 2017

University of Virginia

The slow pace of administrative action is arguably a defining characteristic of modern bureaucracy. The reasons proffered for delay are numerous, often centering on procedural hurdles or bureaucrats’ ineptitude. I offer a different perspective on delay in one important bureaucratic venue: the federal rulemaking process. I argue that agencies can speed up (fast-track) or slow down (slow-roll) the rulemaking process in order to undermine political oversight by Congress, the president, and the courts. That is, when the political climate is favorable, agencies rush to lock in a rule, but when it is less favorable, they wait on the chance that it will improve. I find empirical support for this proposition using an event history analysis of more than 11,000 agency rules from 150 bureaus. The results support the interpretation that agencies strategically delay, and that delay is not simply evidence of increased bureaucratic effort.

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