Policy Influence, Agency-Specific Expertise, and Exit in the Federal Service

Anthony M. Bertelli and David E. Lewis
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, v. 23, n. 2 (2013). doi: 10.1093/jopart/mus044.

Executive turnover influences agency performance, policy implementation, and ultimately the success of legislative delegations. We argue that turnover intention is a function of labor market opportunities—specifically, outside employment opportunities and the acquisition of nontransferable, agency-specific human capital—as well as perceptions about the way in which political decisions have affected federal executive influence over policymaking. Statistical evidence for these claims is provided using data from the 2007–2008 Survey on the Future of Government Service, the largest ever survey of US federal executives. Agency-specific human capital drives down turnover intention in our estimates. The availability of outside options has the opposite effect except in cases where the executive has invested a lot in agency-specific human capital. Turnover intention increases when an agency’s senior executives have little influence over policy. We draw out the implications of these findings for our understanding of federal labor markets, the construction of civil service systems, and the politicization of executive branch agencies.

Wagner Faculty