Public Policy Processes and Analytical Book Report

Excerpt from Book Report :

This historical influence does have a positive influence on the argument due to the placement and context of the current state of political appointments. For example, discussion of the development of extensive political appointment structures during the New Deal, and the growth of the program through the intervening years, presents a historical context and background as well as a pattern of cause and effect that can be examined in detail. The discussion also focuses on recent events including the Clinton administration's use of political appointment and of course the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The use of copious examples does provide strong support for Lewis's argument, although given the empirical claim that he has laid, it is difficult to fully accept these examples as a consistent factor in the book's effectiveness. However, despite's Lewis substantive empirical analysis, and detailed statistical analysis of outcomes or model building, some of these strengths are not fully realized. In general, there are more negative aspects of the book than positive aspects.

The possible negative aspect of this issue is the targeted public. Indeed the reader is not the typical reader but one which is well aware of the theoretical elements invoked throughout the book. However, the book in itself does not represent a source for a general opinion on the matter but rather a manual type of document. This in turn could become inconvenient given the fact that the argumentation is very difficult to ascertain without a proper knowledge of each event or term used. Therefore, the high level of argumentation can make the book harder to read and follow, without any argument to be lost.

A second negative aspect is the discussion of politicization. The assumption of politicization is that the percentage of individuals appointed on a political basis will lead to a specific reduction in the performance level of the organization. However, the percentage of political appointees is not necessarily the best way to judge the politicization of the agency. In each of two cases studied, the CIA and the Office of Special Council, the influence of politicization was felt not simply due to the number of political appointments made, but in the rapid growth in these appointments in a short period of time, and surrounded by political wrangling regarding the nature and goals of the agencies (Lewis, 2008). That is, while politicization is presented by Lewis is a primary cause; it is in fact an effect of the surrounding conditions. Furthermore, it should be noted that the relationship between percentage of employees appointed and performance is likely to be highly dependent on the number of employees within the agency. In this sense, for example, should one agency be comprised of one hundred employees and ten of them are appointed on political criteria, the percentage is ten percent. However, that same percentage of ten percent is more important for an agency which employs fewer people and appoints on political ground fewer individuals. In this case, it does not mean that the latter agency is less politicized. Additional elements to define politicization should be taken into account such as level of appointment, degree of experience, and implications for the wider community of agencies. Politicization is, in general, considered a negative aspect of the executive branch. However, that term should be better described and defined.

Finally, Lewis assumes that the reason for lack of organizational performance is the use of political performance, and he explores few other potential reasons for this lack of performance. In fact, the appointment of an unqualified individual in a position of authority is likely to lead to negative performance implications. However, there are several other reasons for limited performance, such as lack of resources, negative organizational culture, and external politicization of the agency. Thus, the positioning of the use of political appointees as the main element in loss of organizational performance is both reductive and somewhat unfair.

Is the Case Made?

Lewis's work does not fully make its case in regard to the direct statistical relationship between the number of political appointees and the effectiveness of the organization. In one sense, this is not his fault, other than having made a claim that could not be tested empirically. The issue of organizational effectiveness is surprisingly complex in regard to its measurement, and it could be very difficult to appropriately measure organizational effectiveness in order to allow this type of analysis to emerge. However, Lewis did make the claim for a direct negative relationship between the number of political appointees and the effectiveness of the organization. Given that he does not examine this issue in quantitative detail, and provides only negative examples from which conclusions could be drawn, it does not provide substantial proof or evidence for the direct relationship posed. It is quite likely to be certain that there is a relationship between political appointees and organizational performance, but it does not seem likely to be as straightforward as Lewis would like us to believe. Instead, it is likely to be mediated by the size and criticality of the organization, organizational culture and existing norms, strength of the civil service bureaucracy supporting it, and actual skill of the political appointee as well as the outward pressure from political norms. As noted above, Lewis's work does not seem to take into account any possibility that a political appointee may be appointed not only based on political ties, but on actual evidence of competence. Although Weber's ideas regarding bureaucracy and the development of a professional civil service are classical, they do not necessarily bear up to modern scrutiny in all cases. As such the reliance on this structure is not necessarily the most convincing of arguments.

Contributions of the work

Lewis's work provides substantial contributions, despite its shortcomings. One of these contributions is the detailed statistical collection. Although the analysis of this information was rudimentary, it does demonstrate that it is possible to collect this data, making it possible to improve the research outcomes. Furthermore, this provides a reflection of the views of political appointees at the federal administration level, as well as from the realm of public opinion. This clearly demonstrates that, at least in the public mind, the role of political appointees is routinely to lessen the efficiency of the government. Through the use of the FEMA agency and its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, this book provides valuable insight into how political appointment can (and has) go substantially wrong. Thus, this clearly indicates the role that political appointment can play in loss of organizational efficiency, even though Lewis's argument does not follow through with demonstrating that it necessarily causes this loss of organizational efficiency.

Finally, this analysis introduces new questions regarding politicization. Although politicization is seen as crucial in management of regional or federal agencies, Lewis's analysis does provide some questions regarding the role of politics and politicization in the limitation of performance. In particular, there is a dilemma found -- is politicization itself, as characterized by the increase in the number of political appointees to an agency, responsible for a fall in performance, or is it the political activity surrounding the agency itself that causes this change? This area would provide an interesting avenue for new research that could be considered in detail.

Concordance With Other Theories

The most similar theory of political bureaucracy that can be seen reflected in Lewis's work is that of Weber, who promoted the role of the professional civil service free from political appointment based on just such a series of observations. The author dates the origins of these ideas to Woodrow Wilson, who established a professional civil service in order to avoid political influence in administration, and their demise to Roosevelt, who reintroduced the use of political appointees as a means of gaining political and economic power. However, this is not consistent with Weber's discussion in many ways. While Weber saw the role of the elected official in the organization, Lewis discusses the role of the political appointee. While this may seem a minor distinction, in fact it is not. While an elected official may or may not hold knowledge of the position elected to, the political appointee is much more likely to have specialist knowledge that can be applies to the organization. While this is not always true, it is true often enough to consider that political appointees may act as positive change agents, rather than simply negative ones.


Although Lewis' argument is not fully convincing, it is solid and well documented, and the use of historical and statistical information provides ample background on the role of political appointment in American life. The issue of politicization and interference of politics into management of governmental agencies is indeed an important issue for analysis, and Lewis provides a provocative analysis. Lewis's argument that the political appointment of management in the public administration has a negative impact on the performance…

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