Notice & Comment

Regulatory Review Series on Verkuil’s Valuing Bureaucracy

Verkuil bookPaul Verkuil, former Chair of the Administrative Conference of the United States and former law school dean at Tulane and Cardozo, published an important new book this summer entitled Valuing Bureaucracy: The Case for Professional Government (Cambridge University Press). Here’s the description of the book from the CUP website:

To be effective, government must be run by professional managers. When decisions that should be taken by government officials are delegated to private contractors without adequate oversight, the public interest is jeopardized. Verkuil uses his inside perspectives on government performance and accountability to examine the tendencies at both the federal and state levels to ‘deprofessionalize’ government. Viewing the turn to contractors and private sector solutions in ideological and functional terms, he acknowledges that the problem cannot be solved without meaningful civil service reforms that make it easier to hire, incent and, where necessary, fire career employees and officials. The indispensable goal is to revitalize bureaucracy so it can continue to competently deliver essential services. By highlighting the leadership that already exists in the career ranks, Verkuil senses a willingness, or even eagerness, to make government, like America, great again.

I’ve been meaning to review the book on the blog, but fortunately The Regulatory Review has beat me to it with a terrific series on the book. Here are the links to each piece in the series, along with a short description of each:

Why Government Professionals Matter

December 4, 2017  | Paul R. Verkuil, Administrative Conference of the United States

Career officials—the indispensable professionals on which government vitally depends—are being discouraged, ignored, or even displaced. In their stead, federal agencies are relying on a private contractor regime that far outstrips members of the civil service in numbers and, increasingly, in influence. We are seeing core officials lose control, at all levels, of the system that administers public policies and delivers government services.

“Deep State” Claims and Professional Government

December 5, 2017  | David E. Lewis, Vanderbilt University

The President’s supporters have decried a “deep state” of deeply embedded bureaucrats working actively to thwart the new President’s agenda. Is there such a thing as a deep state? If so, what is its relation to professional government? These are important questions since one of the central questions of democratic governance, as highlighted in Paul R. Verkuil’s book, is how to build and maintain a competent administrative state.

The Growing Gap in the Rule of Law

December 6, 2017  | Donald F. Kettl, University of Maryland

For many government officials, there is a growing gap between the rule of law and the steps required to administer public programs. Paul R. Verkuil’s insightful and fascinating book provides a foundation for exploring why this gap exists. Verkuil is among the very few scholars and public intellectuals to press the importance of the rule of law—and where it falls short in governance.

Valuing Democratic Governance

December 7, 2017  | John J. DiIulio, Jr., University of Pennsylvania

Paul R. Verkuil’s book is a tour de force of historical interpretation and empirical analysis. It is also a civics sermon predicated on and punctuated by the author’s unshakeable faith in American democracy. Of course, government today has morphed into a debt-financed, proxy-administered state in which most voters love their member of Congress but hate Congress, demand more government benefits without more taxes, and divide into polarized partisan and ideological factions. But maybe Verkuil is right to hope.

Of “Workarounds” and Bureaucrats

December 11, 2017  | Matthew Lee Wiener, Administrative Conference of the United States

Paul R. Verkuil has established himself as the most forceful academic critic of the “contracting out” of what he saw as non-delegable governmental functions. His main concern in his new book is with the federal civil service. Problems abound—some of them the result not of the civil service laws themselves, but of the perverse ways those laws have been interpreted and applied by the Office of Personnel Management and their likeminded counterparts in agencies.

Learning from Experience for Better Government

December 12, 2017  | Shelley H. Metzenbaum, The Volcker Alliance

Paul R. Verkuil focuses on the people who work in government in his book. Although I wholly agree with his assertion that government workers are critical to effective, trusted government and that government needs professional employees, I question his diagnoses of why governments have problems delivering on their objectives and their prescriptions for fixing those problems.

Valuing Bureaucracy Is a Quixotic Project

December 13, 2017  | Richard J. Pierce, Jr., The George Washington University Law School

In his new book, Paul R. Verkuil notes that the number of federal civil servants has not increased in decades. All growth in the federal workforce has been through the addition of contractors. Verkuil argues passionately and persuasively that we should change this situation and return to a federal workforce that consists primarily of professional bureaucrats. I agree with Verkuil, but he is waging a quixotic campaign. The changes he urges cannot happen.

Reliance on Contractors is Likely Here to Stay

December 14, 2017  | Elaine C. Kamarck, Brookings Institution

Paul R. Verkuil has written a very important book about a dramatic transformation that has taken place in the federal government. As the number of civil servants has remained constant, the number of government contractors has increased dramatically. What has led to the creation of this so-called fourth branch? The answer lies in a combination of structure and politics.

Valuing Commentary

December 18, 2017  | Paul R. Verkuil, Administrative Conference of the United States

There are signs that suggest civil service reform is on Congress’s mind. But it is doubtful that the current Administration in Washington, D.C. will provide many opportunities for serious reform proposals to emerge. On the contrary, we will have all we can do to keep valuable professionals from being transferred into dead-end assignments or resigning in frustration. Persisting in the face of all this still seems a public service worth rendering, which is a conclusion hopefully all the authors of the commentaries in this series will accede to.

You can go buy the book on Amazon here, and it will arrive just in time for the holidays (or post-finals break if you’re a law student or professor)!



This post is part of the Administrative Law Bridge Series, which highlights terrific scholarship in administrative law and regulation to help bridge the gap between theory and practice in the regulatory state. The Series is further explained here, and all posts in the Series can be found here.

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