The theory of public bureaucracy has made dramatic progress over the last few decades. From the pioneering work of Downs, Tullock, and Niskanen to the more recent theories of political control and delegation, the field has put together a sophisticated analytic base for understanding how politics—and the strategies and policy goals of the legislative, executive, and judicial players who exercise political authority—determine how public bureaucracy is organized and ultimately how it performs. My aim in this paper is to review this literature and offer perspective on its content and direction. Along the way I argue that, as this literature has developed and matured, technical issues have come to dominate scholarly attention, and that the normal science now governing the theory—a standardization that testifies to its very success—has been limiting and even misleading in important respects, to the point that fundamental aspects of bureaucracy and its politics are being pushed aside. All told, the progress from the early days has been astonishing. But some rethinking is in order.
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