Ford School doctoral alumnae win prestigious American Political Science Association awards

June 2, 2016

The American Political Science Association has recognized two Ford School doctoral alumnae—Rachel A. Potter (PhD ‘14) and Molly E. Reynolds (PhD ‘15)—with its prestigious ‘best dissertation’ awards.

Potter, who earned her PhD in political science and public policy in 2014, is an assistant professor of politics at the University of Virginia. Her research interests include American political institutions, regulation, public policy, public administration, and the influence of separation of powers on bureaucratic decision-making. 

Potter’s dissertation, “Writing the rules of the game: The strategic logic of agency rulemaking,” (abstract below) argues that independent and savvy bureaucrats employ a number of tools and strategies to advance their own policy preferences through rulemaking. She has received the E. E. Schattschneider award for the best doctoral dissertation in American government and is co-recipient of the Mancur Olson award for the best dissertation in political economy.

Reynolds, who earned her PhD in political science and public policy in 2015, is a governance studies fellow with the Brookings Institution. She studies Congress, with an emphasis on how congressional rules and procedures affect domestic policy outcomes.

Reynolds’ dissertation, “Exceptions to the rule: Majoritarian procedures and majority party power in the United States Senate” (abstract below) argues that majoritarian procedural exceptions, which exempt designated bills from filibuster, ease the passage of legislation that will improve the electoral prospects of the Senate’s majority party. Reynolds has received the Carl Albert award for best dissertation on legislative studies.

Please join us in congratulating both alumnae for their exceptional work.

"Writing the Rules of the Game:  The Strategic Logic of Agency Rulemaking," by Rachel Augustine Potter (2014)

Dissertation Committee: Charles R. Shipan (chair), Jowei Chen, Richard L. Hall, Kenneth W. Kollman

Abstract:    Administrative rules touch on almost every aspect of Americans' lives, from the fuel standards in the cars we drive to whether the "Plan B" morning-after pill is sold at the local pharmacy. Yet, rules are not generated automatically; rather, they are written by bureaucrats in federal agencies through a process known as "notice-and-comment." In this dissertation project I argue that these bureaucrats are independent and savvy political actors who employ tools and strategies to advance their own policy preferences through rulemaking. I argue that notice-and-comment is an institution onto itself and, as such, bureaucrats respond to the incentives it creates. The theory that I develop particularly emphasizes the initial stages of the rulemaking process, and suggests that agencies become entrenched in the policies they propose early on. Bureaucrats are then able to use the tools at their disposal (proposal power, outreach with stakeholders, control over timing, etc.) to shepherd their preferred policies into law. To support this argument, I employ a variety of research methods, including a game theoretic model, statistical methods, and a case study that draws on interviews with bureaucrats and interest group officials. By focusing on the power of bureaucrats in the rulemaking process, the argument highlights the limitations of administrative procedures as tools of political control. Ultimately, the results of this study provide insight into the underappreciated role of unelected bureaucrats in the American system.  

“Exceptions to the Rule: Majoritarian Procedures and Majority Party Power in the United States Senate,” by Molly Elizabeth Reynolds (2015)

Dissertation committee: Richard L. Hall and Charles R. Shipan (co-chairs), Kenneth W. Kollman, Elisabeth Gerber

Abstract:    This dissertation explores majoritarian procedural exceptions, which are special procedures that exempt designated bills from a filibuster on the floor of the United States Senate. I argue that these rules are created in order to ease the passage of legislation that will improve the electoral prospects of the Senate’s majority party. In Chapter 1, I describe these rules. In Chapter 2, I explore patterns in the creation of one class of the procedures, known as oversight exceptions, which induce the president to take actions favored by the Senate’s majority party that he would otherwise avoid. In Chapter 3, I investigate the creation of a second class of the procedures, known as delegation exceptions; these rules help the Senate’s majority party reduce the negative electoral consequences of certain policy choices. In Chapters 4 and 5, I conduct a case of study of one particular majoritarian exception: the budget reconciliation procedures. Chapter 4 describes these rules and their history and offers a theoretical account and accompanying empirical test of when we should expect to observe their use. Chapter 5 then explores the policy consequences of the reconciliation rules. Finally, Chapter 6 summarizes my findings and discusses their implications for procedural reform in Congress.