Confirmation dynamics: A model of presidential appointments to independent agencies

Timothy P. Nokken, Brian R. Sala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Many scholars contend that senators defer to the president on appointments to executive branch positions. Others assert that presidential appointments are highly constrained by senatorial 'folkways'. Still others argue that the bureaucracy is essentially uncontrollable via political appointments. In this paper, we present a stylized spatial model of presidential appointments and agency policy-making to explicate the conditions under which senators will constrain presidential appointments to independent agency boards. A key parameter for determining presidential influence is the direction (or absence) of policy drift induced by career bureaucrats' policy preferences. We show that presidential capture of independent agencies follows from favorable bureaucratic drift, but typically does not arise under adverse or zero drift. We illustrate the model via a simulation of appointments over time to an idealized agency board, identifying conditions under which rapid policy convergence on presidential preferences is possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-112
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Theoretical Politics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000


  • Ideological voting
  • Independent agencies
  • Presidential appointments
  • Spatial models


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