Symposium on Behavioral Approaches to Bureaucratic Red Tape and Administrative Burden


Public Administration Review

Symposium Editors:

Christopher Carrigan, The George Washington University (;

Sanjay Pandey, The George Washington University (;

Gregg G. Van Ryzin, Rutgers University–Newark (;


Bureaucracy’s reliance on rules and procedures attracts support as well as mobilizes opposition.  Writing in the wake of the industrial revolution, Weber favorably compared bureaucracy with machines that had so remarkably revolutionized industrial production.  Bozeman (2000) describes bureaucracy as “the cod liver oil of social institutions,” reflecting the more modern experience that recognizes both the importance of and distaste for bureaucratic rules and procedures.

The bureaucratic red tape literature in public administration began exploring the dysfunctional effects of rules and procedures during the 1990s (see, e.g., Bozeman 1993; Bozeman and Feeney 2011; Pandey and Scott 2002), with recent work providing careful and richly-textured perspectives on rule dynamics (Dehart-Davis 2017).  This scholarship, however, typically looks inside the organization and, as a result, has not given adequate attention to how external stakeholders such as citizens and small businesses are affected (Pandey, Pandey, and Van Ryzin 2017).  An emerging literature on a closely related concept, administrative burden, rectifies this oversight by focusing on the impact of dysfunctional rules and regulations on citizens (see, e.g., Herd et al. 2013). Similarly, deep literatures studying rulemaking and the regulatory process have analyzed how rule design impacts whether regulated entities, such as firms, respond in ways which help achieve social goals (see, e.g., Carrigan and Coglianese 2011; Coglianese and Kagan 2007).

The emergence of behavioral public administration offers a compelling opportunity to deepen understandings of bureaucratic red tape, administrative burden, and government regulations (Grimmelikhuijsen et al. 2017).  Behavioral public administration (BPA) applies insights from behavioral economics and psychological science to many traditional topic areas within public administration.  It often uses Simon’s (1947/1997) seminal work on administrative behavior as a touchstone and focuses on phenomena such as bounded rationality, unconscious thought processes (so-called fast thinking), cognitive illusions, emotions, human choice, and various mental heuristics and biases. BPA also includes a commitment to experimental methods, including lab, survey and field experiments (James, Jilke, and Van Ryzin 2017).

Insights from BPA have important implications for understanding the origins and impacts of bureaucratic red tape, administrative burden, and government regulation. Not only do agency officials themselves suffer from behavioral impediments that can work to undermine effective policymaking, but they are also subject to the cognitive bounds of the political overseers, businesses, individuals, and communities with which they interact.  Indeed, it can be suggested that what makes a rule or regulation red tape or burdensome has much to do with how it establishes a perverse choice architecture that places cognitive and behavioral barriers in the way of rational action.  The complexity of a government form, for example, can prevent a taxpayer from making an accurate filing, a family from receiving needed benefits, a business from complying with an environmental regulation, and a public employee from being effective and efficient.

To overcome these barriers, governments have begun to experiment with nudge strategies—simple, low-cost improvements in the choice architecture created by government procedures (John, Smith, and Stoker 2009; Thaler and Sunstein 2008). For example, although economic market failure forms the traditional justification for regulatory intervention, contemporary rulemaking is increasingly focusing on whether and how regulations can be used to encourage citizens and businesses to make better choices in the context of cognitive limitations introduced by behavioral phenomena (Allcott and Sunstein 2015; Mannix and Dudley 2015).

In this call for papers, we welcome work that focuses on BPA, especially as it relates to contributing to a deeper understanding of the creation and consequences of bureaucratic red tape, administrative burden, and government regulations.  We are open to a broad range of contributions that advance knowledge in these areas, and although we see value in experimental methods, we are also interested in proposals that implement other methodological approaches as well.  We plan to organize guidance and feedback for authors in a variety of ways, including a one-day conference at The George Washington University that will bring together the prospective symposium authors and editors as well as practitioners steeped in behavioral approaches to public policy and public administration.  Potential paper proposals that would be welcome include, but are not limited to, one or more of the following themes:

  • Behavioral consequences of red tape and administrative burden
  • Behavioral justifications for regulatory action
  • Group decision making biases in bureaucratic settings
  • Behavioral dimensions of government responses to crises
  • Nudge strategies
  • Citizen-state interactions
  • Emotional responses to bureaucracy
  • Cognitive biases in decision making
  • Choice architecture of government rules and services
  • Relevant theoretical syntheses and conceptual analyses

Review Process and Timeline

15 November, 2017 – Paper proposal (maximum 1,000 words) should be submitted via e-mail to, copying the symposium co-editors.

15 December, 2017 – Decision on paper proposal communicated to authors.

Late Spring 2018 (exact date to be announced later) – One-day conference at The George Washington University (sponsored by the Trachtenberg School, George Washington University; Center for Experimental and Behavioral Public Administration, Rutgers University; and Regulatory Studies Center, George Washington University). Although authors of accepted proposals are strongly encouraged to participate, attendance is not mandatory.

31 August, 2018 – Complete manuscripts to be submitted to and the symposium co-editors for final screening and feedback.

31 October, 2018 – Manuscripts to be submitted to PAR’s online editorial system ( Manuscripts will undergo the journal’s normal peer review process as overseen by PAR Co-Editors-in-Chief, Jeremy Hall and Paul Battaglio.


Allcott, Hunt, and Cass R. Sunstein. 2015. “Regulating internalities.” Journal of policy analysis and management 34(3): 698-705.

Bozeman, Barry. 1993. “A theory of government ‘red tape’.” Journal of public administration research and theory 3(3): 273-304.

Bozeman, Barry. 2000. Bureaucracy and red tape. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bozeman, Barry, and Mary K. Feeney. 2011. Rules and red tape: A prism for public administration theory and research. Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe.

Carrigan, Christopher, and Cary Coglianese. 2011. “The politics of regulation: From new institutionalism to new governance.” Annual review of political science 14: 107-129.

Coglianese, Cary, and Robert Kagan. 2007. Regulation and regulatory processes. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

DeHart-Davis, Leisha. 2017. Creating effective rules in public sector organizations. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Grimmelikhuijsen, Stephan, Sebastian Jilke, Asmus Leth Olsen, and Lars Tummers. 2017. “Behavioral public administration: Combining insights from public administration and psychology.” Public administration review 77(1): 45-56.

Herd, Pamela, Thomas DeLeire, Hope Harvey, and Donald P. Moynihan. 2013. “Shifting administrative burden to the state: The case of Medicaid take‐up.” Public administration review 73(S1): S69-S81.

James, Oliver, Sebastian Jilke, and Gregg Van Ryzin. 2017. Experiments in public administration research: Challenges and opportunities. New York: Cambridge University Press.

John, Peter, Graham Smith, and Gerry Stoker. 2009. “Nudge nudge, think think: Two strategies for changing civic behaviour.” The political quarterly 80(3): 361-370.

Mannix, Brian F., and Susan E. Dudley. 2015. “The limits of irrationality as a rationale for regulation.” Journal of policy analysis and management 34(3): 705-712.

Pandey, Sanjay K., Sheela Pandey, and Gregg Van Ryzin. 2017. “Prospects for experimental approaches to research on bureaucratic red tape.” In Experiments in public management research: Challenges and opportunities. Edited by Oliver James, Sebastian Jilke, and Gregg Van Ryzin, pp. 219-243. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pandey, Sanjay K., and Patrick G. Scott. 2002. “Red tape: A review and assessment of concepts and measures.” Journal of public administration research and theory 12(4): 553-580.

Simon, Herbert A. 1947/1997 Administrative behavior. New York: The Free Press.

Thaler Richard, H., and Cass R. Sunstein. 2008. Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.