Date of Award

Spring 4-29-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

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Historical & Political Studies; College of Arts & Sciences

First Advisor

Amy Widestrom


The U.S. Constitution outlines a three-branch government, with each branch having separate and distinct powers, and a system of checks and balances to maintain accountability. According to these two principles, the federal bureaucracy has the authority to execute legislative action but it must remain accountable to Congress to ensure that congressional statutory intent is reflected in the execution of legislation. When the bureaucracy does not accurately execute the wishes of Congress, these principles are violated. Scholars have labeled this phenomenon bureaucratic drift. This thesis will examine the interplay between Congress and the Bureaucracy and attempt to address the following question: are actions taken by the Federal Bureaucracy producing bureaucratic drift and if so, what does this suggest about the constitutional principles of separation of powers and checks and balances? Applying the theoretical framework of principal-agent theory to the case study of the executive agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), I argue that bureaucratic drift is occurring and that this presents two challenges for the legislative branch: first, the constitutionally designated powers of the Legislative Branch are being performed in the Executive Branch; and second, Congress lacks a viable check on this overreach of power.


This thesis was presented at the Mid-Atlantic Undergraduate Social Research Conference on March 23, 2016.