Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Armed for Arms Control? Presidents, Bureaucrats and the Role of Government Structure in Policymaking
by Dalton, Toby F., Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2015, 502; 3643434
Abstract (Summary)

Reorganizations of government structure are a common political solution to organizational challenges. But do such major changes in structure yield optimized policy or improve decisionmaking? Are independent agencies more or less effective and do they exert a greater or lesser impact on the policy they were created to shape and implement than they would be if subordinated to a larger bureaucratic structure?

This dissertation analyzes the relationship between government structure, decisionmaking, and policy effectiveness as applied to a central national security policy priority of the last 60 years: strategic arms control. It utilizes a case assessment to compare the role and impact of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) in interagency policymaking during the US-Soviet Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty negotiations, with the role and impact of ACDA's successor functions--after they were incorporated into the State Department in 1999--during the US-Russia New START negotiation.

The dissertation assesses whether small, independent agencies are or can be more effective than if the same government function is embedded in a larger, cabinet department; which factors lend credibility (or audibility) to these policy voices; and the extent to which government structure as opposed to other factors, namely presidential interest or interagency management, impacts policy effectiveness. In addition to policy effectiveness, the dissertation also analyzes the relationship between government structure, agency design and national security decisionmaking, a broader topic of relevance to the policy sciences. In particular, by exploring how changes in structure affect the interagency policy process and outcomes and the extent to which structure interacts with government politics, the dissertation assesses how the sources of power of the two sets of major actors in government (presidents and bureaucrats) are conditioned by structure, and how those actors in turn can use structure to manipulate process and outcomes.

The case analysis affirms that specialized agencies like ACDA can fulfill an important staffing requirement when the government otherwise lacks sufficient expertise, but in general such agencies struggle to influence major national security policy decisions, regardless of the dominant decisionmaking paradigm. An independent mission and statutory authority are insufficient to guarantee an agency's policy effectiveness, particularly if they operate in an ideologically charged policy milieu. Instead, policy effectiveness is tied more to expertise and key relationships between an agency director and principals at other agencies, particularly if decisionmaking is dominated by presidents rather than government politics, as arms control has tended to be.

Government administrations have often used reorganization as a way to highlight priorities and seek more effective policies. Instead of utilizing structural reforms, however, future administrations seeking to adequately arm the government for arms control negotiations should focus on building a cadre of qualified and respected expertise to staff the issues, both civil servants and political appointees. Harnessing the right experts and vesting them with presidential confidence is more likely to achieve effective policy than moving boxes on the organization chart.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Balla, Steven J.
Commitee: Carrigan, Christopher, Goldgeier, James, Nolan, Janne E., Talmadge, Caitlin
School: The George Washington University
Department: Public Policy and Public Administration
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 76/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: International Relations, Public policy
Keywords: Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Arms control, Decision making, Government politics, National security policy
Publication Number: 3643434
ISBN: 978-1-321-31087-0
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