Elections, Ideology, and Turnover in the U.s. Federal Government

Alexander Bolton (Emory University)
John de Figueiredo (Duke University)
David Lewis (Vanderbilt University)

Abstract : A defining feature of public sector employment is the regular change in elected leadership. Yet, we know little about how elections influence public sector careers. We describe how elections alter policy outputs and disrupt the influence of civil servants over agency decisions. These changes shape the career choices of employees motivated by policy, influence, and wages. Using new Office of Personnel Management data on the careers of millions of federal employees between 1988 and 2011, we evaluate how elections influence employee turnover decisions. We find that presidential elections increase departure rates of senior employees, particularly in agencies with divergent views relative to the new president and at the start of presidential terms. We also find suggestive evidence that vacancies in high-level positions after elections may induce lower-level executives to stay longer in hopes of advancing. We conclude with implications of our findings for public policy, presidential politics, and public management.

Public Contracting for Private Innovation: Government Capabilities, Decision Rights, and Performance Outcomes

Joshua Bruce (Duke University)
John M. de Figueiredo (Duke University)
Brian S. Silverman (University of Toronto)

Abstract : We examine how the U.S. Federal Government selects governance structures for R&D contracts with private-sector firms. The government chooses between two contractual forms – grants and cooperative agreements – where the latter provides the government with substantially greater discretion over, and monitoring of, project progress. Using novel data both on R&D contracts and on the technical expertise available in specific government bureau locations, we test implications from the organizational economics and capabilities literature. We find that cooperative agreements are more likely to be used for early-stage projects and when the local government bureau personnel have relevant technical expertise; in turn, cooperative agreements yield greater innovative output as measured by patents and citations, controlling for the endogeneity of contract form. The results are consistent with multi-task agency and transaction cost approaches that emphasize decision rights and monitoring.

Making Moves Matter: Experimental Evidence on Incentivizing Bureaucrats Through Performance-based Postings

Adnan Q. Khan (LSE)
Benjamin Olken (MIT)
Asim I. Khwaja (Harvard)

Abstract : Postings are often used by bureaucracies, especially in emerging economies, in an attempt to reward or punish their staff. Yet we know little about whether, and how, this type of mechanism can help incentivize performance. Using postings to induce performance is challenging, as heterogeneity in preferences over which postings are desirable non-trivially impacts the effectiveness of such schemes. We propose and examine the properties of a mechanism, which we term a performance-ranked serial dictatorship, in which individuals sequentially choose their desired location, with their rank in the sequence based on their performance. We then evaluate the effectiveness of this mechanism using a two-year field experiment with over 500 property tax inspectors in Punjab, Pakistan. We first show that the mechanism is effective: being randomized into the performance-ranked serial dictatorship leads inspectors to increase the growth rate of tax revenue by between 44 and 80 percent. We then use our model, combined with preferences collected at baseline from all tax inspectors, to characterize which inspectors face the highest marginal incentives under the scheme. We find empirically that these inspectors do in fact increase performance more under this mechanism. We estimate the cost from disruption caused by transfers to be small, but show that applying the scheme too frequently can reduce performance. On net the results suggest that bureaucracies have tremendous potential to improve performance by periodically using postings as an incentive, particularly when preferences over locations have a substantial common component.