Administrative Burden

Administrative Burden

Policymaking by Other Means

Pamela Herd, Donald P. Moynihan

The unobtrusive nature of administrative burdens, relative to other policy alternatives, results from the combination of three qualities: opacity, controllability, and neutrality. Although issues such as eligibility levels for welfare programs are decided in high-profile debates played out in front of legislators and the media, the seemingly prosaic details such as the length of an application form are more hidden and complex, and their effects less likely to be observed or understood by outsiders. This is the quality of opacity. Controllability means that such details are under the control of administrative actors—the details of programs generally considered to fall into the domain of administrative execution and are delegated to the executive branch. The Controllability of rules relates directly to their opacity—as the nature and effect of burdens becomes clear, they become a matter of interest to other political actors, such as the legislature or higher levels of government. A third quality of administrative burdens is their apparent neutrality—changes in burdens can be presented as technical fixes without any specific policy intent, or as facilitating widely accepted political goals, such as the reduction of fraud.

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