The Journal of Politics


Secretaries of Pork? A New Theory of Distributive Public Policy

Anthony M. Bertellia1 and Christian R. Grosea2

a1 University of Southern California

a2 Vanderbilt University


Scholars have focused attention toward congressional influence over distributive grant allocations, but they have less frequently examined the extent to which administrative agencies play a role in that process. We present a new theory of ideology-contingent executive decision making within a multiple-principals framework to explain the geographic distribution of policy benefits. Our theory is novel in that it locates interbranch ideological conflict and confluence at the center of bureaus’ allocational strategies. Discretionary Department of Labor (DOL) grants and Department of Defense (DOD) contracts from 1991 to 2002 are examined to provide evidence that agencies deliver more grants to senators with proximate ideologies. To measure bureaucratic ideology, we generate comparable ideology estimates for cabinet secretaries, presidents, and members of the U.S. Senate via an item-response model. Our findings suggest that ideological congruence between senators and DOL or DOD is associated with significantly larger amounts of grants or contracts, respectively. These findings are important as they recast our understanding of distributive politics into ideological terms.

(Received November 12 2007)

(Accepted September 06 2008)


Anthony M. Bertelli is the C.C. Crawford Chair in Management and Performance, School of Policy, Planning, and Development and USC School of Law, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626.

Christian R. Grose is assistant professor of political science, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37235.