Controlling Agency Choke Points: Presidents and Turnover in the Senior Executive Service

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Social Sciences

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Legal Studies Research Paper Series

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If presidents wish to see their policy priorities implemented, they need control over career executives occupying key decision-making positions. This paper examines the extent to which new presidential administrations marginalize high level career executives and whether political conflict with a new administration drives executives from their positions. Once in office, presidents are more likely to target individuals with whom they conflict and those in important policymaking positions. Turnover is also affected by the choices of career executives. Some anticipate conflict and strategically exit before a new president takes office. To assess our theory, we use unique new data that combines individual survey responses with personnel records to analyze the probability that an agency executive departs her position from March 2015 to July 2017. Given our findings that turnover is driven both by presidential marginalization and strategic exit by bureaucrats, we conclude with implications for presidential efforts to control the bureaucracy.

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