Julian Sanchez is onto something here. If public choice economics has taught us anything (debatable) it’s that the government isn’t just some monolithic machine that processes the will of the President with maximum efficiency. Just as the President can’t just bully pulpitze/leadershipatize/Jedi mind meld Congress into obeying his every whim, he can’t even do the same to the Executive Branch. Hasn’t anyone seen Yes, Minister?

Less snarkily, the government is comprised of lots of individuals in lots of institutional arrangements and thus there are lots of dispersed and conflicting interests throughout agencies and offices. This can come with its own set of problems – my favorite move is – but if it comes with any benefits it’s that it’s not exactly easy for a new President to simply dominate existing institutions with ease. Here’s a great story about the incumbent NASA Adminsitrator refusing pretty much completely to cooperate with the Obama transition team in late 2008. Watergate snowballed the way it did in large part because of Mark Felt. Internationally, Iran-Contra was broken open by this guy, an inside leaker.

It’s not that inside leaks solve all problems, but it is the case that informal norms can sometimes be more powerful than formal controls.

[Julian Sanchez, public choice, NASA, Barack Obama, Iran-Contra, THE ORACLE, Yes Minister, Brazil, bully pulpit, leadership, bureaucracy]