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Renaming and Credit Claiming in Federal Agencies

Brandon Merrell - PhD candidate, U.C. San Diego
Richard Flores - PhD student, University of Chicago

Why are federal agencies renamed, reorganized, and terminated? This paper introduces an original dataset that accounts for the creation, evolution, and closure of more than 1,000 federal agencies from 1947 through 2014. We demonstrate that existing research overestimates the rate at which agencies are terminated. Rather than close agencies outright, public officials regularly relabel existing agencies and transfer government functions from one agency to another. To explain this behavior, we offer evidence for a novel theory of political credit-claiming: by renaming and reorganizing agencies, politicians can create the appearance that they are fulfilling their campaign pledges without actually disrupting the stream of services that agency stakeholders receive.

Paper presented at the 2017 APSA Annual Meeting and 2018 MPSA Annual Meeting. Copy available upon request.