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Disability, Civil Rights, and Public Policy: The Politics of Implementation

Disability, Civil Rights, and Public Policy: The Politics of Implementation

by Stephen L. Percy

Editorial Reviews

Percy (political science, U. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) analyzes the theory and practice of policy implementation in the context of the political struggles of persons and groups affected by disability rights laws. He examines efforts to influence policies which extended beyond the process of legislative enactment, and resulted in struggles played out in the courts and the executive branch. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Henry R. Glick
This book describes the details of the adoption and implementation of federal laws written primarily since 1965 which are designed to benefit the disabled. Legislation dealing with the removal architectural barriers, access to public transportation, public education, and employment are dealt with in seven chapters rich in the detail of political competition and outcome uncertainty in various institutional arenas. Disability policy has received very little attention in political science and the author provides a complete description of intriguing politics related to their development. It also is an interesting story of how disability policy became linked to civil rights and the politics of translating sometimes detailed, confusing and ambiguous legislative language into substantive public policy. The research also sensitizes the reader to the significance of public policies which often are invisible to the casual observer or which are overshadowed by other more controversial issues such as abortion, race relations, the economy, and foreign affairs, but which nevertheless are crucial for improving or hindering the daily lives of millions of citizens. Besides the interesting and unusual subject, probably the main importance of this book for judicial and legal scholars is that it applies the concept of policy implementation to legislative policy in a way that approximates how political scientists have conceived of the implementation of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions. Familiar themes including the ambiguity of legislative language (like judicial language), lack of clear responsibility for policy implementation, the options of administrators who are expected to create more specific policies (termed policy refinement), and lobbying by the affected public -- all are reminiscent of numerous impact and implementation studies of the U.S. Supreme Court. While the study includes discussion of court cases which have influenced policy, it concentrates on other matters. Nevertheless, the inclusion of the courts demonstrates that policy making and implementation cut across many political institutions and involve various official and unofficial political actors. The author states "...the results of implementation can best be understood by tracing the flow of policy decisions across and through institutional arenas, where interested parties in issue networks interact, in a self-interested manner, to affect the distribution of costs and benefits in their favor." (p. 36). Although the sub-title is "The Politics of Implementation," most of the book actually concentrates on policy refinement: how high level executives view general legislative language and translate broad mandates into administrative rules which will be put into place by lower level officials. Relatively little space is devoted to the impact of new laws and administrative rules on the people who ultimately benefit or suffer from governmental decisions. Borrowing from the literature on agenda setting, the author emphasizes organizing principles which serve as symbolic guidelines for carrying out a law and which shape thinking about how future policy should look. The organizing principles then become operating principles which are the practical mechanisms for putting policy into effect. This too is similar to judicial impact research in which most attention is given to a variety of political actors who inevitably must translate and refine the general language of the courts into local policies and actions. However, the language of public administration and agenda setting normally have not been applied to judicial research. An important contribution of the book is that the author relies on concepts from many different parts of political science and public administration and indicates that policy research can benefit from applying Page 92 follows: similar concepts to many institutions and policies. The author calls on political scientists to develop a general theory of policy implementation which could be applied to all political institutions. Presumably, broader research on policy implemen- tation could produce richer theory, lead to studies which bridge narrow institutional analyses and, for judicial research in particular, decrease the isolation or distinctiveness that frequently characterizes the judicial subfield. But, the theoretical introduction in Chapter 2 is a bit thin for suggesting hypotheses or focusing the research on particular political processes, or for guiding more precise theory building, comparative case studies or broader aggregate research which could cumulate and lead to general conclusions about policy implementation. It primarily describes major concepts used in re- search on agenda setting and implementation but does not build toward a set of general propositions or a specific set of behaviors which need to be examined. The following chapters also fail to explicitly employ the general theory presented earlier. The concluding chapter explicitly compares the policy implementation process across all of the disability policies but it too does not explicitly indicate how future research on policy implementation should be done or how to build bridges to theory and concepts developed in different parts of the discipline. Since the book concentrates on federal decision making, rather than on local implementation, it also cannot suggest political or social variables which might affect policy implementation differently in various settings or for different policies. This limitation is not a fault of the book, but rather reflects the author's decision to concentrate on policy refinement by higher level officials and institutions. Despite these qualifications, the book is rich in detail and provides many illustrations of ambiguity and uncertainty in policy development. It also underscores the difficulty in developing general theory that can explain a variety of policy outcomes, even in the same general area. It will be useful to researchers in judicial politics as well as other areas of policy who wish to build toward general and more inclusive theory about how legislative, judicial and executive policies are translated or refined into rules, regulations and procedures which affect Americans in their daily lives.

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University of Alabama Press
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