Professor Rose-Ackerman Argues for Public Participation in Executive Policymaking

A session of Bundestag, the German federal parliament
The Bundestag, the German federal parliament, is shown in session. Germany is one of four democracies — along with France, the U.K. and the U.S. — Professor Susan Rose-Ackerman studies in her book “Democracy and Executive Power.”
Susan Rose-Ackerman
Professor Susan Rose-Ackerman

In Democracy and Executive Power (Yale University Press, 2021), Professor Susan Rose-Ackerman argues that public participation in executive policymaking is an imperative of modern democratic government. The challenge is to open up the rulemaking process to ordinary citizens without sacrificing bureaucratic expertise. This is no easy task, and her book explores different ways in which France, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. are confronting this balancing test. France and the U.S. are presidential systems; Germany and the U.K. are parliamentary systems. These differences allow Rose-Ackerman to consider how these contrasting constitutional traditions help to explain the different approaches taken by these leading Western democracies.

Rose-Ackerman undertakes a comparative analysis of policymaking in executive departments and independent agencies. This approach prepares the way for her to develop basic principles that could guide future reform efforts. Such efforts would recognize constitutional differences without assuming that they impose rigid limits to innovative responses.

Two basic issues complicate the problem, according to Rose-Ackerman. On one hand, ordinary citizens often don’t have the technical knowledge necessary for constructive participation. On the other hand, presidents and prime ministers often override agency expertise and regulate crucial areas in ways that maximize partisan political objectives. 

Democracy and Executive Power book cover
Rose-Ackerman argues that the American Administrative Procedure Act (APA) now provides a constructive response to both problems. This law requires agencies to provide public notice of proposed rules, hold open-ended hearings, and respond to public comments with reasoned justifications for their proposed courses of action. The federal courts then have jurisdiction to assure that these procedures were followed and that the rules are rationally related to the statutory provisions enacted by Congress. She emphasizes, however, that both Democratic and Republican presidents have increasingly undermined these principles by unilateral interventions from the White House. She also discusses different ways to reinvigorate the APA in the real world of American government. At the same time, Rose-Ackerman points to a host of wide-ranging experiments in public participation currently under way in Europe and the U.K. She assesses both the strengths and weaknesses of these attempts. 

In short, Democracy and Executive Power aims to provoke debate on both sides of the Atlantic — as well as in other countries whose forms of public administration have been profoundly influenced by Western models.

Susan Rose-Ackerman is Henry R. Luce Professor Emeritus of Law and Political Science. She has a doctorate in economics from Yale and has served as a Fellow at research institutes in France, Germany, Hungary and Italy during the decades of her research and writing on comparative public law and the political economy of corruption.