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Costs and benefits through bureaucratic lenses: Example of a highway project


  • Anthony Boardman
  • Aidan Vining
  • W. G. Waters


This article characterizes the perceptions of government bureaucrats about cost-benefit analysis (CBA). The observations arise after working with government officials on various projects and leading many executive seminars for government employees over the last decade on the principles and practice of CBA. Government employees tend to adopt one of three conceptual lenses: Guardians, Spenders, and Analysts. These perspectives differ sharply from one another, resulting in completely different meanings to the words benefits and costs. The orientation of Guardians is to “revenue-expenditure” analysis, while Spenders are oriented to “constituency-support” analysis. Analysts are oriented to standard CBA. The differences in perspectives are illustrated using an ex ante CBA of a proposed toll highway project.

Suggested Citation

  • Anthony Boardman & Aidan Vining & W. G. Waters, 1993. "Costs and benefits through bureaucratic lenses: Example of a highway project," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(3), pages 532-555.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jpamgt:v:12:y:1993:i:3:p:532-555 DOI: 10.2307/3325305

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Nelson, Robert H, 1987. "The Economics Profession and the Making of Public Policy," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 25(1), pages 49-91, March.
    2. Lind, Robert C., 1990. "Reassessing the government's discount rate policy in light of new theory and data in a world economy with a high degree of capital mobility," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 8-28, March.
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    5. Bender, Bruce, 1988. "An Analysis of Congressional Voting on Legislation Limiting Congressional Campaign Expenditures," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(5), pages 1005-1021, October.
    6. Donald H. Rosenthal & Robert H. Nelson, 1992. "Why existence value should not be used in cost-benefit analysis," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 11(1), pages 116-122.
    7. Raymond J. Kopp, 1992. "Why existence value should be used in cost-benefit analysis," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 11(1), pages 123-130.
    8. Walter Hettich, 1983. "The Political Economy of Benefit-Cost Analysis: Evaluating STOL Air Transport for Canada," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 9(4), pages 487-498, December.
    9. David A. Long & Charles D. Mallar & Craig Thornton, 1981. "Evaluating the Benefits and Costs of the Job Corps," Mathematica Policy Research Reports ba3a91e82f5f43b48bab18ea4, Mathematica Policy Research.
    10. Weingast, Barry R & Shepsle, Kenneth A & Johnsen, Christopher, 1981. "The Political Economy of Benefits and Costs: A Neoclassical Approach to Distributive Politics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 642-664, August.
    11. Boardman, Anthony E. & Lave, Lester B., 1977. "Highway congestion and congestion tolls," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(3), pages 340-359, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jones, Philip & Cullis, John, 1996. "Legitimate and illegitimate transfers: Dealing with "political" cost-benefit analysis," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 247-257, June.
    2. de Bettignies, Jean-Etienne & Ross, Thomas W., 2009. "Public-private partnerships and the privatization of financing: An incomplete contracts approach," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 358-368, May.
    3. Anthony E. Boardman & Aidan R. Vining, 2010. "Assessing the Economic Worth of Public–Private Partnerships," Chapters,in: International Handbook on Public–Private Partnerships, chapter 8 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Aidan R. Vining, 2016. "What Is Public Agency Strategic Analysis (PASA) and How Does It Differ from Public Policy Analysis and Firm Strategy Analysis?," Administrative Sciences, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(4), pages 1-31, December.
    5. Kerry Krutilla, 2005. "Using the Kaldor-Hicks tableau format for cost-benefit analysis and policy evaluation," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(4), pages 864-875.

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