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Jason MacDonald
Associate Professor of Political Science


Peer Reviewed Journal Articles:

MacDonald, Jason A., and Robert J. McGrath. Forthcoming. "A Race for the Regs: Unified Government, Statutory Deadlines, and Federal Agency Rulemaking." Legislative Studies Quarterly. 44(May): 345-381.

Theory suggests that Congress should delegate more policymaking authorityto the bureaucracy under unified government, where lawmakers are lessworried about the president orchestrating “bureaucratic drift.” Yet, all unifiedgovernments come to an end, making broad delegations potentially advantageousto future lawmaking coalitions (“coalitional drift”). We seek to assess howlawmakers simultaneously limit the risk of each of these pitfalls of delegation.Our answer is rooted in Congress’s ability to spur agency rulemaking activityunder unified government. Specifically, we expect statutes passed under unifiedgovernment to require agencies to issue regulations quickly and for enactingcoalitions to use oversight tools to influence agency policy choices. Such “proximateoversight” allows coalitions to cement policy decisions before a new electionchanges the configuration of preferences within Congress and the executivebranch. We assess our argument using unique data on both congressional rulemakingdeadlines (1995–2014) and the speed with which agencies issue regulations(1997–2014).

MacDonald, Jason A., and Robert J. McGrath. 2016. " Retrospective Congressional Oversight and the DynamicCongressional Influence over the Bureaucracy."  Legislative Studies Quarterly.

Research stresses that congressional committees increase their oversight of the bureaucracy during divided government. We extend this research by developing an explanation, rooted in a more dynamic view of policymaking, for why Congress would sometimes conduct vigorous oversight under unified control as well. In short, committees seem to engage in what we call “retrospective oversight” and take advantage of newly friendly executive administration to refocus existing policy made under a past opposition president. We assess our perspective using two separate sources of data on oversight hearings spanning more than sixty years and find support for our claims regarding retrospective oversight.

Mills, Russell W., Nicole Kalaf-Hughes, and Jason A. MacDonald. Forthcoming. “ Agency Policy Preferences, Congressional Letter-Marking, and Distributive Policy Benefits. ”  Journal of Public Policy.

When allocating distributive benefits, bureaucrats must balance their own policy preferences with requests from members of Congress. The elimination of earmarking may provide agency personnel with greater discretion in the allocation of distributive benefits. Using a novel dataset of Congressional letters written in support of their community’s air traffic control towers, we estimate a model that explores the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision to issue national interest exemptions to continue operations at towers slated for closure as a result of budget sequestration. Our analysis suggests that members of Congress do not enjoy the influence they possessed under earmarking when using a new method, letter-marking, to influence how agencies distribute benefits.

MacDonald, Jason A. 2013. “  Congressional Power over the Executive Branch: Limitations on Bureaucratic Regulations, 1989-2009  .”  Presidential Studies Quarterly43(Septemeber): 523-537.

Research on American political institutions correctly emphasizes the ascendency of presidential power over the last century. Nevertheless, Congress possesses tools to influence how the executive branch shapes public policy. I examine how the use of limitation riders in appropriations laws allows Congress to affect the substance of bureaucratic decisions when Congress otherwise would not have much traction with the bureaucracy: under divided government. In examining the history of limitation riders that forbade the issuance of bureaucratic regulations from 1989 to 2009, I find support for this perspective. The findings suggest that, although Congress may be at a disadvantage in shaping law and policy relative to the president in many cases, its constitutionally protected spending authority continues to promote its ability to influence the executive branch.

MacDonald, Jason A., and Erin E. O’Brien. 2011. “ Quasi-Experimental Design, Constituency, and Advancing Women's Interests: Reexamining the Influence of Gender on Substantive Representation.”  Political Research Quarterly. 64(June): 472-486.

Do congresswomen provide more substantive representation of women’s interests than congressmen? We argue that findings indicating that this is the case should be approached cautiously. This is because regressions of substantive representation on gender, presented in prior research, do not control for all aspects of representatives’ districts that lead representatives to support women’s interests. This means that these factors, which are correlated positively with dummy variables indicating that districts are represented by women, are contained in the error term in the regressions. Correspondingly, the coefficient for the variable measuring female representation is biased upward. We employ a quasi-experiment to overcome this methodological problem. Our findings, though, reinforce past findings that congresswomen provide more representation to women’s interests than their male colleagues. In addition, we find that this effect is magnified as the percentage of women in the chamber increases.

MacDonald, Jason A. Forthcoming, 2010. “  Limitation Riders and Congressional Influence over Bureaucratic Policy Decisions.”  American Political Science Review. 104 (November): 766-782.

I argue that limitation riders—provisions in appropriations bills that forbid agencies from spending money for purposes specified in the provisions—provide Congress with greater leverage of bureaucratic policy decisions than scholars recognize. I demonstrate that limitation riders are used regularly, are used to limit how agencies employ regulatory authority, and are used to limit agencies’ decisions on salient policy matters. Furthermore, because limitation riders are included in appropriations legislation, they are more insulated from presidential vetoes than provisions in authorizing legislation. In addition, I develop a theory about why limitation riders are employed that leads to the prediction that a higher volume of limitation riders will be used when there is policy disagreement between congressional majorities and the President. I assess this prediction empirically using data on all limitation riders affecting policy in appropriations bills reported by the House Appropriations Committee from 1993 to 2002 and data on all limitation riders forbidding regulatory actions from 1989 to 2009. The findings support the theory: Congress employs more limitation riders when it has reason to distrust how the President will influence agencies’ policy choices. The implication of the analysis is that Congress possess greater leverage over the direction of policy than is appreciated. In addition, the findings have implications for understanding theories of delegation to the bureaucracy.

MacDonald, Jason A. 2009. “ Lawmakers’ Preferences for Bureaucratic Discretion: The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996.”  Congress & the Presidency. 36: 164-180.

This article considers the robustness of the finding that lawmaking coalitions decrease discretion given to agencies when the coalition does not trust the political actors who will oversee the agencies. Does this finding extend to the preferences individual lawmakers have for agency discretion? Examining the amendment offering activity of U.S. senators on the bills in the title above, I find that it does. I argue that this finding should enhance our confidence in theories stressing the policy conflict between lawmaking coalitions and those in charge of overseeing agencies reduces the amount of authority agencies receive.

MacDonald, Jason A., and William W. Franko, Jr. 2008. “ What Moves Partisanship? Migration, State Partisan Environment Change, and Party Identification .”  American Politics Research. 36 (November): 880-902.

Drawing on research on social communication networks, we develop a perspective on the circumstances that lead people change their partisanship when they move: some individuals become more sympathetic to the party of the majority of people in their new communities because, when they hear positive (negative) information about the favored party in the community and check this information with sources in the community, they are likely to have that information reinforced (refuted). The process works the opposite way for the disfavored party. Using the  Inter-generational Panel Study, we observe support for this perspective and discuss the implications of partisanship moving with people for the 2000 elections.

MacDonald, Jason A. 2007. “ Agency Design and Post Legislative Influence over the Bureaucracy.”  Political Research Quarterly. 60 (December): 683-695.

This article shows that Congress provides less discretion to agencies as the volume of policy disagreement it experiences with political actors well-positioned to influence the agencies’ decisions increases. What distinguishes this research from prior research on delegation is that I argue, and present evidence to the effect that, lawmaking coalitions consider congressional committees and the President in tandem when determining post-legislative threats to legislative agreements.

MacDonald, Jason A., and William W. Franko, Jr. 2007. “ Bureaucratic Capacity and Bureaucratic Discretion: Does Congress Tie Policy Authority to Performance?”  American Politics Research.35 (November): 790-807.

Based on theories of delegation, we hypothesize that Congress provides more discretion to agencies that perform effectively. Using data from the  Federal Performance Project, we assess this hypothesis on a sample of federal agencies. We find that agencies are more likely to have discretion removed as their performance diminishes.

MacDonald, Jason A. 2007. “ The U.S. Congress and the Institutional Design of Agencies.”  Legislative Studies Quarterly. 32 (August): 395-420.

This article employs interviews with professional staff of congressional committees. The responses of staffers, who are well-positioned to observe legislative deal-making, to questions about why Congress limits bureaucratic authority serve to assess the face validity of theories of agency design. Staffers’ responses reinforce several perspectives, though they cast doubt on the idea that proponents of legislation engineer structural hurdles within agencies that impede the effectiveness of policy-making out of a fear that if/when their opponents control the lawmaking process, they will compel agencies to undermine the proponents’ goals.

Henig, Jeffrey R., and Jason A. MacDonald. 2002. “Locational Decisions of Charter Schools: Probing the Market Metaphor.” Social Science Quarterly. 83 (December): 962-980.

This paper examines where charter schools in Washingon, DC locate their buildings. We find that political factors drive decisions about where to locate. That charter schools employ non-market considerations in making this decision has implications for understanding how they operate generally.

MacDonald, Jason A., and Lee Sigelman. 1999. “Public Assessments of Gubernatorial Performance: A Comparative State Analysis.” American Politics Quarterly. 27 (April): 201-215.

We estimate an empirical model of gubernatorial popularity, evaluating theoretical expectations of the factors that drive popular support for governors. One finding of particular interest is that governors who preside over tax increases experience lower popularity. However, this is not the case for all governors. Rather, governors are only less popular when they raise taxes if it is currently an election year. This finding stresses that elections have an informational role: constituents are not likely to realize and/or hold governors accountable for raising taxes in a non-election year when this information is not made salient to them; however, in election years when the governors opponent(s) are likely communicating to the electorate about the governor’s role in raising taxes, the popularity of governors wanes.

Tuch, Steven A., Lee Sigelman, and Jason A. MacDonald. 1999. “Race Relations and American Youth, 1976-1995.” Public Opinion Quarterly. 63 (Spring): 109-148.

We chart support high school seniors’ evaluations of their experiences with people of other races as well as their support for inter-racial ties by examining Monitoring the Future Data from 1976 to 1995.