Sourcing of Expertise and the Boundaries of the Firm: the Case of Lobbyists

Miguel Espinosa (London School of Economics)

Abstract: This paper proposes and tests a theory of vertical integration with knowledge workers. Outsourcing allows firms to solve hard problems at the cost of transmitting firm-specific knowledge. By hiring someone internally, firms save on these communication costs, with the downside of incurring costs of acquiring knowledge. Exploiting the increasing returns to the use of knowledge implies conducting easy and frequent activities in-house and harder and less frequent tasks in the external market. The economy saves communication costs when firms with large firm-specific knowledge conduct activities in-house. I confirm the empirical validity of this theory using data from a knowledge-intensive industry: US Federal Lobbying. First, using information at both the industry and bill levels, I validate the main theoretical predictions using client fixed-effects estimations. Second, I exploit the 2010 BP oil spill as an exogenous increase in the difficulty of the lobbying activities for the oil and gas extracting industry, and I show it led to a disproportionate increase in the use of external lobbyists for the affected industry. Lastly, I argue that the 2007 Open Government Act modified both the distribution of problems that firms faced and the technology to acquire knowledge. Estimating the underlying parameters of the integration decision, I explain how these two changes modified the integration patterns of the industry.