Agency Theory and the Bureaucracy

B. Dan Wood

in The Oxford Handbook of American Bureaucracy

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780199238958
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of American Politics

Agency Theory and the Bureaucracy

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This article starts by presenting a basic description of agency theory. This theory has its roots in economics and business management. It then reports an important stream of public administration research that has emerged using agency theory over time: political control of the bureaucracy. It tries to illustrate how agency theory has evolved through elaboration, extension, and the insights of critics to advance the understanding of this key question in a democracy and, hence, to show the power of agency theory to build knowledge cumulatively. The most extensive application of agency theory in public administration has come in advancing the understanding of democratic control of the bureaucracy. The article finally offers advice for future researchers so that they might better use agency theory to understand bureaucracies and their relationships within a larger political system. Agency theory has moved the field some distance toward the type of science practiced in other disciplines.

Keywords: agency theory; public administration; bureaucracy; democracy; power; political system

Article.  12052 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics

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