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Rachel Potter, University of Virginia

Buying Evidence? Presidential Influence via Government Research

Rachel Potter

Rachel Augustine Potter is an assistant professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on the hidden politics of procedure and process in American political institutions, with a particular focus on bureaucracy and regulation. Her book Bending the Rules: Procedural Politicking in the Bureaucracy (University of Chicago Press, 2019) received two awards from the American Political Science Association and an award from the National Academy of Public Administration. Her other research has appeared in the Journal of Politics, Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and Journal of Public Policy, among others. Dr. Potter has testified before Congress and is a regular contributor to the Brookings Institution Center on Regulation and Markets. Before becoming a political scientist, she worked for a number of governmental institutions, including the White House Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and the German Federal Ministry of the Interior.

Abstract:The federal government routinely engages the private sector to conduct research and this research, in turn, often forms an evidence base for future policy decisions. Given its potential to influence the policymaking process, I argue that research production is a previously unappreciated tool in the president’s policy arsenal. Focusing on federally funded research and using a dataset of federal procurement from 2001-2018, I explore whether government-funded research is subject to political manipulation by the executive. The results show that agencies that are high on the president’s policy agenda and those with a higher proportion of presidentially appointed leaders are associated with larger research awards to contractors. This pattern is unique to research awards and is not repeated in other contracting areas. The broad implication is that government agencies procure research to advance the president’s priorities.