Secretaries of Pork? A New Theory of Distributive Public Policy

40 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2008 Last revised: 30 Nov 2008

See all articles by Anthony M. Bertelli

Anthony M. Bertelli

Pennsylvania State University; Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals - IBEI

Christian R. Grose

University of Southern California

Date Written: September 12, 2008


Scholars have focused attention toward congressional influence over distributive grant allocations, though have less frequently examined the extent to which administrative agencies play a role in that process. We present a new theory of ideology-contingent executive decisionmaking within a multiple-principals framework to explain the geographic distribution of policy benefits. Our theory is novel in that it locates inter-branch ideological conflict and confluence at the center of bureaus' allocational strategies. Discretionary Department of Labor (DOL) grants and Department of Defense (DOD) contracts from 1991-2002 are examined to provide evidence that agencies deliver more grants to senators with proximate ideologies. To measure bureaucratic ideology, we generate comparable ideology estimates for cabinet secretaries, presidents, and members of the U.S. Senate via an item response model. Our findings suggest that ideological congruence between senators and DOL or DOD is associated with significantly larger amounts of grants or contracts respectively. These findings are important as they recast our understanding of distributive politics into ideological terms.

Keywords: Pork-barrel politics, Ideal Point Estimation, Public Policy, Congress, Executive Politics, Presidency

JEL Classification: H50, H57

Suggested Citation

Bertelli, Anthony M. and Grose, Christian R., Secretaries of Pork? A New Theory of Distributive Public Policy (September 12, 2008). Journal of Politics, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Anthony M. Bertelli (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

University Park, PA 16802-3306
United States


Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals - IBEI ( email )

Ramon Trias Fargas 25-27
Barcelona, Barcelona 08005

Christian R. Grose

University of Southern California ( email )

Joseph M. Crow 327
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States


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