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Delegation versus Communication in the Organization of Government

by Anders Olofsgård (with R. Luma), published in the Journal of Public Economics

When a government creates an agency to gather information relevant to policymaking, it faces two critical organizational questions: whether the agency should be given authority to decide on policy or merely supply advice, and what should the policy goals of the agency be. Existing literature on the first question is unable to address the second, because the question of authority becomes moot if the government can simply replicate its preferences within the agency. In contrast, this paper examines both questions within a model of policymaking under time inconsistency, a setting in which the government has a well-known incentive to create an agency with preferences that differ from its own. Thus, our framework permits a meaningful analysis of delegation versus communication with an endogenously chosen agent. The first main finding of the paper is that the government can do equally well with a strategic choice of agent, from which it solicits advice, instead of delegating authority, as long as the time inconsistency problem is not too severe. The second main finding is that the government may strictly prefer seeking advice to delegating authority if there is prior uncertainty with respect to what is the optimal policy.

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