American Political Science Review


Bureaucratic Capacity, Delegation, and Political Reform

a1 Columbia University
a2 Princeton University


We analyze a model of delegation and policymaking in polities where bureaucratic capacity is low. Our analysis suggests that low bureaucratic capacity diminishes incentives for bureaucrats to comply with legislation, making it more difficult for politicians to induce bureaucrats to take actions that politicians desire. Consequently, when bureaucratic capacity is low, standard principles in the theoretical literature on delegation no longer hold. We also use the model to examine the issue of political reform in polities with low bureaucratic capacity. The model indicates that politicians in such polities will be trapped in a situation whereby they have little incentive to undertake reforms of either the bureaucracy or other institutions (such as courts) that are crucial for successful policymaking.

c1 John D. Huber is Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Columbia University, New York, NY 10025 (
c2 Nolan McCarty is Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540 (