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Assessing Wetland Assessment: Understanding State Bureaucratic Use and Adoption of Rapid Wetland Assessment Tools

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Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Author: Arnold, Gwen
Date: 2012
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/9882
Sector: General & Multiple Resources
Region: North America
Subject(s): assessment
Abstract: "Rapid wetland assessment tools, technically complex science policy innovations that are deployed within the regulatory sphere and have relatively low public salience, can highlight and help interpret the data a bureaucrat should use when making wetland regulatory choices. These tools can help bureaucrats overcome the longstanding challenge of quantifying wetland benefits when making such choices. However, state wetland bureaucrats use these tools infrequently in regulation, and states find adopting tools into regulatory policy difficult. This research explores why.These problems are analyzed by focusing on six Mid-Atlantic states and using an original survey of state wetland bureaucrats (n=149), interviews with policy actors (n=98, 58hours), ethnographic data collection (18 months spent working with federal wetland bureaucrats who work regularly with state counterparts), and secondary source analyses.Research reveals that street-level wetland bureaucrats are more likely to deploy tools in regulation when they have more opportunities to learn about tools via on-the-job experience, lateral communication about tools with policy network members, and vertical communication of tool-supportive cues from their administrative hierarchies. The institutions of cooperative environmental federalism and the Clean Water Act generate power inequities, path dependencies, and perverse incentives which discourage states from adopting tools into regulatory policy. This phenomenon is illuminated via synergistic institutional analysis, an approach the dissertation proposes for using the complementarities among rational choice, sociological, and historical institutionalism to explain policy outcomes. Contrary to a core expectation of cooperative environmental federalism, ostensibly pro-environment pressures the federal government imposes on states can prevent states from pursuing environmentally beneficial policies. Finally, the dissertation develops the concept of the street-level policy entrepreneur,an implementing bureaucrat who crafts or secures a policy innovation intended to improve implementation processes, then seeks to entrench the innovation in the practices of bureaucratic peers. Neither the conventional political science literature on policy entrepreneurship nor the street-level bureaucracy literature gives sufficient attention to the entrepreneurial capacity of these actors. Yet case studies of tool adoption efforts pursued by states show that implementing bureaucrats can pioneer, rather than merely receive and execute, policy innovations."

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