The Politicizing Presidency
The White House Personnel Office, 1948-1994
Thomas J. Weko
From Truman to Clinton presidents have aggressively tried to expand their control over national government. In the process, they have vastly enlarged their White House staffs and politicized the federal bureaucracy with thousands of appointees in key administrative positions. Thomas Weko argues that the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO), charged with screening and recommending such appointees, both exemplifies and helps explain the enormous growth of presidential power since World War II.
Originally conceived as a small advisory group within the White House Office, the PPO has grown enormously from a staff of two under Truman to as many as sixty under other presidents and now oversees nearly four thousand appointments per administration. Weko charts the PPO's evolution and influence and shows how central it is to our understanding of modern presidential leadership.
“A major contribution to scholarship on the appointment process and the institutional development of the post-World War II presidency. It is richly detailed, yet a good read.”
—American Political Science Review
“The great strength of Weko’s book is that it is clearheaded without being simpleminded.”
—Political Science QuarterlySee all reviews...
“The author has produced a well-written and meticulously researched work that should be of interest to all presidency scholars.”
—Journal of Politics
“Weko has written a study that gracefully integrates empirical data, historical evidence, and rational choice theory into an informative and enlightening work on the development of the contemporary presidency.”
—Perspectives on Political Science
“Weko accords detailed treatment to an under-researched aspect of the institutional presidency. . . . touches on most major debates surrounding presidential power in the late 20th century.”
—American Politics Review
“This is the most thorough analysis of the institutional presidency and presidential appointments I’ve seen and will be the definitive study of the White House Personnel Office for some time to come. Weko is excellent in showing how the decline of parties, the fragmentation of Congress, the proliferation of primaries, the increasing number of interest groups, and the decline of the cabinet are all interrelated and contribute to the growth of the White House staff. A superb book.”
—James Pfiffner, author of The Modern Presidency
“Weko makes a significant contribution to presidential studies by providing one of the first empirical assessments of ‘rational choice institutionalism,’ an important new strand in the literature introduced by Stanford’s Terry Moe. He offers strong support for Moe’s general theory, but also improves it by accounting for the detours along the way attributed to presidential preferences, political necessity, and short-run public concerns. A well-written, well-designed, and carefully argued study.”
—Joseph A. Pika, coauthor of The Presidential Contest and The Politics of the Presidency
“A fascinating and much-needed account that fills a serious gap in the empirical literature on the presidency and sheds important new light on the presidential power of appointment.”
—Terry M. Moe, author of The Organization of InterestsSee fewer reviews...
Weko's starting point is Terry Moe's rational choice theory that it is the institution of the presidency, not the sitting president, that fosters centralization and politicization within the executive branch. Amplifying and extending Moe's theory, Weko persuasively links the PPO's explosive growth to the weakening of political parties, the post-Eisenhower disintegration of "policy networks," the growing impact of television news, and the public's increasing readiness to hold the President accountable for policy failures.
The PPO's growth clearly has increased presidential control and bureaucratic responsiveness. But Weko argues those results have had unanticipated and unwanted consequences that, among other things, have undermined the integrity and capabilities of administrative agencies. Any improvement in the leadership of the executive branch, he contends, can only emerge from changes in the current institutional arrangement of the presidency itself.
Based on exhaustive research in White House files, oral histories, and memoirs, and personal interviews with over 100 White House aides, Weko's study provides a provocative new look at the White House Office and the modern presidency.