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Slackers and Zealots: Civil Service, Policy Discretion, and Bureaucratic Capacity


  • Sean Gailmard

    (Northwestern University)

  • John W. Patty

    (Carnegie Mellon University)


In this paper we investigate how “civil service” personnel management interacts with bureaucratic discretion to create high capacity, expert bureaucracies populated by policy-motivated agents. We build a model in which bureaucrats may invest in (relationship specific) policy expertise, and may be either policy-motivated or policy-indifferent. We show that under specific conditions on the nature of expertise and bureaucratic discretion over policy choices, merit system protections for job tenure encourage the development of expertise and problem solving capacity in the bureaucracy. In addition, we identify conditions under which typical civil service rules encourage policy-motivated bureaucrats to enter and remain in public service, and policy- indifferent bureaucrats to leave it.

Suggested Citation

  • Sean Gailmard & John W. Patty, 2005. "Slackers and Zealots: Civil Service, Policy Discretion, and Bureaucratic Capacity," Public Economics 0502008, EconWPA.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwppe:0502008
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 29

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. McCubbins, Mathew D & Noll, Roger G & Weingast, Barry R, 1987. "Administrative Procedures as Instruments of Political Control," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 3(2), pages 243-277, Fall.
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    More about this item


    Bureaucracy; Expertise; Discretion; Civil Service;

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General

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