Rachel Potter wins APSA award for best doctoral dissertation in American government

June 1, 2016

The American Political Science Association has recognized Rachel A. Potter (PhD ‘14) with the E. E. Schattschneider award for the best doctoral dissertation in the field of American government. Her 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.

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. Her current book project addresses why some government agencies are successful in the notice-and-comment rulemaking process, while others fail. Her most recent research appears in International Studies Quarterly. 

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

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.