Rachel Potter – 2016 E.E. Schattschneider Award Recipient

The E.E. Schattschneider prize is awarded annually for the best doctoral dissertation completed and accepted during that year or the previous year in the field of American government.

rachel.potter.photo.reducedRachel Potter’s dissertation takes on an important component of federal policymaking that is often ignored and yet central to the notion of democratic accountability— the practice of “notice-and-comment” rulemaking.  At the outset, Potter notes that agencies are quite successful at having their preferred rules survive veto by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  The rest of the project explains why “notice-and-comment,” which should open rulemaking to political oversight, instead is vulnerable to bureaucratic control.

Potter argues that agencies’ preferred outcomes arise from the unique ability of bureaucrats to navigate the “notice-and-comment” period.  It is prior to this critical stage that their insiders’ knowledge of rules and procedures allows them to preempt objections of their political overseers.

The committee was impressed with the originality and the scope of the project, which bridges scholarship in political science and public administration. Potter develops a theoretical model, tests that model against regulatory data from OIRA spanning multiple years and agencies, then further develops the practical implications of her argument using interviews with bureaucrats as well as a case study.   Ultimately, the research supports a unique argument that questions the value of institutional mechanisms designed to impose political control on agencies.

Special thanks to our committee Lina Newton (Chair), Hunter College; Kent Portney, Texas A&M University; Dan Hopkins, Georgetown University