The Reagan Adminstration justified its civil rights enforcement by claiming an electoral mandate to reduce government. The Administration employed an administrative strategy to fulfill this asserted mandate, illustrating the conventional wisdom that the strategy enhances political responsiveness. But responsiveness to popular will is one democratic value, while protection of minority rights another. In the case of the administrative strategy to enforce the law protecting civil rights of the institutionalized, career employees within the Reagan Justice Department reacted forcefully to the change in policy direction, believing their action was critical to protecting basic human rights because of the powerlessness of the affected group.
Holt examines how the Reagan Administration implemented its strategy of limited enforcement and the varied responses of the career employees, including internal and external criticism, mass departure, and even sabotage of some actions. A survey of careerists and interviews with both political and career employees provide detailed accounts of the clash that ensued. In addition to providing valuable information on how and when an administrative strategy can best be employed, Holt identifies some of the hidden costs of a tightly controlled bureaucracy. An apparently successful policy, which minimizes the involvement of experienced career employees, can have an adverse long term effect. A valuable study for all students and researchers of public policy formation and implementation, the contemporary presidency, and civil rights.