The use of presidential executive orders to control the management and administration of the federal government

Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration

First Advisor's Name

James D. Carroll

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Fred Becker

Third Advisor's Name

Harvey Averch

Date of Defense



As long as governmental institutions have existed, efforts have been undertaken to reform them. This research examines a particular strategy, coercive controls, exercised through a particular instrument, executive orders, by a singular reformer, the president of the United States. The presidents studied- Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton-are those whose campaigns for office were characterized to varying degrees as against Washington bureaucracy and for executive reform. Executive order issuance is assessed through an examination of key factors for each president including political party affiliation, levels of political capital, and legislative experience. A classification typology is used to identify the topical dimensions and levels of coerciveness. The portrayal of the federal government is analyzed through examination of public, media, and presidential attention. The results show that executive orders are significant management tools for the president. Executive orders also represent an important component of the transition plans for incoming administrations. The findings indicate that overall, while executive orders have not increased in the aggregate, they are more intrusive and significant. When the factors of political party affiliation, political capital, and legislative experience are examined, it reveals a strong relationship between executive orders and previous executive experience, specifically presidents who served as a state governor prior to winning national election as president. Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Clinton (all former governors) have the highest percent of executive orders focusing on the federal bureaucracy. Additionally, the highest percent of forceful orders were issued by former governors (41.0%) as compared to their presidential counterparts who have not served as governors (19.9%). Secondly, political party affiliation is an important, but not significant, predictor for the use of executive orders. Thirdly, management strategies that provide the president with the greatest level of autonomy-executive orders redefine the concept of presidential power and autonomous action. Interviews of elite government officials and political observers support the idea that executive orders can provide the president with a successful management strategy, requiring less expenditure of political resources, less risk to political capital, and a way of achieving objectives without depending on an unresponsive Congress.



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