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Bureaucratic Ambition

, 240 pages

17 line drawings

December 2011



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Bureaucratic Ambition

Careers, Motives, and the Innovative Administrator

Winner, 2013 Book Award from the American Society for Public Administration's Section on Public Administration and Research

Winner, 2016 Herbert A. Simon Award from the American Political Science Association

Political scientists and public administration scholars have long recognized that innovation in public agencies is contingent on entrepreneurial bureaucratic executives. But unlike their commercial counterparts, public administration "entrepreneurs" do not profit from their innovations. What motivates enterprising public executives? How are they created? Manuel P. Teodoro’s theory of bureaucratic executive ambition explains why pioneering leaders aren not the result of serendipity, but rather arise out of predictable institutional design.

Teodoro explains the systems that foster or frustrate entrepreneurship among public executives. Through case studies and quantitative analysis of original data, he shows how psychological motives and career opportunities shape administrators’ decisions, and he reveals the consequences these choices have for innovation and democratic governance. Tracing the career paths and political behavior of agency executives, Teodoro finds that, when advancement involves moving across agencies, ambitious bureaucrats have strong incentives for entrepreneurship. Where career advancement occurs vertically within a single organization, ambitious bureaucrats have less incentive for innovation, but perhaps greater accountability. This research introduces valuable empirical methods and has already generated additional studies.

A powerful argument for the art of the possible, Bureaucratic Ambition advances a flexible theory of politics and public administration. Its lessons will enrich debate among scholars and inform policymakers and career administrators.

Manuel P. Teodoro is an assistant professor of political science at Colgate University.

"Manuel Teodoro offers a whole new way of thinking about the motivations of policy entrepreneurs, tying the urge to innovate with career ambition. This book breaks new ground, and does so with an effective blending of new theorizing and new empirical work. This is sound scholarship that is original and exciting."

"Teodoro uses sensible theorizing, compelling case studies, and unique data to show that two masters, current employers and potential future employers, influence how and whether administrators innovate. Going well beyond conventional principal-agent approaches, Bureaucratic Ambition is among the most important books on bureaucracy in recent years and is one of the best written."

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