FDR, Presidential Power and the Growth of the Presidential Branch
By Matthew J. Dickinson
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1996
Online Publication Date:January 2010
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511609275.011
Roosevelt's decision to institutionalize sources of bargaining resources transformed the American presidency, enabling it to meet the unprecedented demands of the New Deal and World War II. But in subsequent years presidents have strayed from the organizational precepts embraced by FDR as outlined in the Brownlow Report: a small, generalist White House staff and vastly strengthened but depoliticized institutional staff agencies. In its stead they have nurtured the presidential branch: an advisory organization dominated by a White House staff bureaucracy, functionally specialized and hierarchically arranged.
Branch growth has had debilitating consequences. Bigness, hierarchy, and specialization change staff incentives. Hierarchy and size reduce direct contact between aides and the president. Specialization attracts individuals who by virtue of prior experience may be less motivated by the president's bargaining needs and more by the parochial dictates of role requirements. Consequently, presidents must spend progressively more resources to extract bargaining resources and ensure that they serve presidential bargaining needs.
This logic, if correct, suggests at least two lines of inquiry. First, is there evidence that FDR's administrative instincts might be profitably employed under current political conditions? And if so, why have FDR's successors largely abandoned his practices? Neither question, of course, can be fully answered in the few pages remaining here; they require an additional book-length analysis. Nevertheless, some preliminary if speculative responses are in order. Let us begin with the second question: Why have modern presidents largely ignored FDR's staff methods if they proved as effective as I claim?
Several possible explanations come to mind. First, staff effectiveness is not easily measured; there is no definitive “price” associated with aides' services.