Cornell University

Joint Industrial Organization Workshop and Applied Microeconomics Workshop: Joerg Spenkuch

Wednesday, September 22, 2021 at 11:15am to 12:45pm

Virtual Event

Joerg Spenkuch, Northwestern University

Ideology and Performance in Public Organizations (joint w/Edoardo Teso and Guo Xu)

Abstract: We combine personnel records of the United States federal bureaucracy from 1997–2019 with administrative voter registration data to study how ideological alignment between politicians and bureaucrats a↵ects the personnel policies and performance of public organizations. We present four results. (i) Consistent with the use of the spoils system to align ideology at the highest levels of government, we document sig-nificant partisan cycles and substantial turnover among political appointees. (ii) By contrast, we find virtually no political cycles in the civil service. The lower levels of the federal government resemble a “Weberian” bureaucracy that appears to be largely protected from political interference. (iii) Democrats make up the plurality of civil servants. Overrepresentation of Democrats increases with seniority, with the di↵erence in career progression being largely explained by positive selection on observables. (iv) Political misalignment carries a sizeable performance penalty. Exploiting presidential transitions as a source of “within-bureaucrat” variation in the political alignment of procurement officers over time, we find that contracts overseen by a misaligned officer exhibit cost overruns that are, on average, 8% higher than the mean overrun. We provide evidence that is consistent with a general “morale effect,” whereby misaligned bureaucrats are less motivated. Our results thus help to shed light on the costs of ideological misalignment within public organizations.

Dial-In Information

If you are interested participating in this seminar, please email Ulrike Kroeller at for Zoom information.

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Event Type

Seminar, Class/ Workshop




economics, EconSeminar, EconIO, EconAppliedMicro

Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Ulrike Kroeller

Contact Phone



Joerg Spenkuch

Speaker Affiliation

Northwestern University

Open To

Cornell Economics Commnity (List Service Mambers)