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A long tradition of research in public administration revolves around the concept of representative bureaucracy (e.g., Krislov, 1974; Grabosky and Rosenbloom, 1975; Thompson, 1976; Cayer and Sigelman, 1980; Dometrius, 1984; Meier, 1993a; see also Meier, 1993b, for a comprehensive review of representative bureaucracy theory and research). According to the theory of representative bureaucracy, the demographic composition of the bureaucracy should mirror the demographic composition of the public. In this way, the preferences of a heterogeneous population will be represented in bureaucratic decision making.
The theory has been more precisely defined in recent years to include the following types of representation: passive, where the bureaucracy has the same demographic origins as the population it serves, and active, where bureaucrats act on behalf of their counterparts in the general population. Active representativeness theory holds that values linked to demographic origins will be translated into programs, policies, or decisions that benefit individuals of similar origins (Meier, 1993b).
Initially, representative bureaucracy theory generated a good deal of controversy because the notion of a public bureaucracy acting as a representative political institution was considered a perversion of democratic rule (Krislov and Rosenbloom, 1981). Despite these early challenges, the theory has gained considerable attention as a legitimation for bureaucratic policy making and as a justification for social policies such as affirmative action (Saltzstein, 1979; Rosenbloom and Featherstonhaugh, 1977).
The preponderance of representative bureaucracy research has focused on the demographic representativeness of public bureaucracies, an issue that remains salient not only to researchers but also to elected officials with appointing authority.(1) The composition of government work forces is illustrative of the level of openness of bureaucracies to persons of all backgrounds (Meier, 1993b). It serves as an indicator of equality of opportunity and access. In addition, it can promote the legitimacy of government bureaucracies in that diverse communities may have a greater sense of enfranchisement when the bureaucracies that serve them (e.g., police, health, social services, etc.) are visibly diverse.
In these ways, passive representativeness has important symbolic value.
Our research joins the debate as to where the study of representative bureaucracy should be concentrated. We depart from previous research by focusing on agency leaders, as opposed to overall agencies or street-level bureaucrats. Top political appointees serve as our locus of representativeness. Many scholars and practitioners have argued that representation is important not just at the upper, policy-making levels, but at the lower levels as well (Meier 1993b; Meier and Stewart, 1992; Thompson 1976). The interest is in "street-level bureaucrats," a term coined by Lipsky (1980), which refers to those direct service providers (e.g., police officers, social workers) who have some discretion over the delivery of public services in their domains. In representative bureaucracy parlance, street-level bureaucrats are an important cohort of public employees because they have the power to influence the quality and quantity of services their agencies deliver. While many have acknowledged the significance of street-level bureaucrats as agency representatives (e.g., Thompson, 1976), few have contested the importance of agency leaders as pivotal bureaucratic decision makers.
Policy leaders appointed by governors are an integral part of the policy-making machinery of state government. As the pace of devolution accelerates, political appointees will exercise substantial influence over policy development and participate in key resource allocation choices. This study supplies a missing piece of the representative bureaucracy puzzle in that it focuses on the most influential policy makers.
This study introduces new measures of passive representativeness that provide a more comprehensive picture of the representativeness of state government bureaucracies. Using original data on gubernatorial appointed policy leaders collected from the 50 states, it offers a more detailed assessment of representativeness by providing a breakdown of the highest leadership positions in state government bureaucracies by gender, race, and ethnicity.
The Theory of Representative Bureaucracy
First coined by Kingsley in 1944, representative bureaucracy has been defined and interpreted in a number of different ways. Krislov (1974, 23) in his seminal work, compared representative bureaucracy to the embodiment of will." He explains that
the creature in miniature (or clear, or quicker) form
does precisely what the original body would have
done.... The ... notion of representation suggests
additional legitimacy gained from some almost intuitive
or random-sample isomorphism of the two bodies.
The smaller represents -- stands for -- the larger
because in some way it encapsulates -- stands for -- the
Mosher (1982) is credited with further explicating the theory of representative bureaucracy by differentiating between passive and active representation. As noted above, …