Structural Change and Theories of Legislative Organization: A Reassessment of Congressional 'Turf Wars'

Date & time

Apr 11, 2003-Jun 15, 2024, 12:00 am-8:02 pm EDT


Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
The full paper is available as PDF file.

E. Scott Adler
University of Colorado


What values and priorities motivate the design of political institutions? In this paper, we investigate committee reform in the U.S. House of Representatives to consider two questions: What drives structural change in Congress? What values and priorities decide the 'turf wars' that result when Congress assign jurisdictional control over issues to congressional committees? We draw on a new dataset to test three prominent explanations for institutional change: path dependency, mobilization of bias, and informational efficiency. Path dependency predicts that changes tend to reinforce historical patterns of behavior. Mobilization of bias perspectives posit that the main beneficiaries of change are those who have the most to gain. Finally, informational expertise predicts that institutional realignments benefit the actors who are best qualified to evaluate the merits of policy proposals. We test each of these perspectives by investigating seventeen jurisdictional changes and find strong support for the informational/expertise perspective. In the minority of cases where we did find support for the path dependency and mobilization of bias perspectives, the committee gaining the jurisdiction was also the best qualified with respect to issue expertise.