« The Programmatic Approach: the case of the highest level of power in the USA (Executive and Congress branches) in health and defence sectors from1988-2010»

The empirical data presented in the data base, are taken from the research program OPERA (Operationalizing Programmatic Elites Research in America 1988-2010). This study carried out by William Genieys, was funded by the French National Research Agency (250.000euros) and took place from 2008 to 2012 (OPERA: ANR-08-BLAN-0032). The empirical survey concerns the transformation of the highest level of the US governing structures in the health and defence sectors.

The fieldwork was carried out by a team of senior and junior researchers. The senior team was composed of Jean Joana (Prof. University of Montpellier 1), Saïd Darviche, Marc Smyrl ( Associate Professor Montpellier 1), Sébastien Guignier (IEP of Bordeaux), as well as William Genieys (Research Professor CNRS). The junior team was composed, on the one hand, of two post-docs hired by CEPEL-UM1, Ben Jensen (American University) et Catherine Hoeffler (Science Po Paris), and, on the other hand, by two Ph.D students, , Anne-Laure Beaussier et Ulrike Lepont .
The empirical data, concerning US elites collected through this field work are of two different but complementary kinds. On the one hand, they consist of a socio-biographic data base on the positional elites studied, and, on the other hand, of a large number of interviews carried out in Washington DC, for the greater part by the junior team researchers.

The production and the summary of empirical data should be considered in the context of the development of the programmatic approach. This method has been developed with the purpose of analysing the role of actor groups or elites in formulating reforms in public policies in Europe (Genieys, Smyrl, 2008; Genieys 2010). Expressed in its first version for the study of the transformation of the highest levels of the French social state, it has been recently reviewed by Genieys and Hassenteufel (2012), in order to apply it on others cases. It has been used and readjusted here according to the US, ‘checks and balances’ system (i.e. congress and executive branches) with the aim of assessing the elite configurations of decision making for health and defence policies.

The programmatic approach is based on two distinct but convergent empirical research paradigms (See the characteristics of the programmatic approach on the table below):

1) A quantitative paradigm: the longitudinal sociographic study (i.e. more than 20 years) of a sample of actors characterised by the period in position(s) of power;

2) A qualitative paradigm: in depth interviews secured by a “snowball effect” with key informants, who are known for having an important role in decision making or in formulating reforms in a chosen field of public policy, who, in return, recommend a list of actors to interview among the decisional positions remained for our research.

First step of programmatic approach: the sociography from the big “n” to the small “n”

The first step of the programmatic approach is devoted to the longitudinal sociographic study, over a period of ten to twenty years, over which “positional elites” will be understood. For the OPERA investigation on the US case, we retained the period of 1988-2010. This timeframe has the aim of taking into account a significant period to measure the continuity of elite careers in the senior of executive and Congressional areas, by taking into consideration the effect of shifting majorities. We have therefore analysed three republican and three democratic administrations. This comprises the period from the 100th to the 111th Congresses. Congress, twelve legislative terms in all, during 5 of which the president had the majority in the two houses: Clinton during the 103rd, Bush JR during the 107th, 108th, and 109e and Obama for the 111th.

From this, we have first delimited a population of more then 3000 actors in the highest positions of power (i.e. senior appointees of executive and staffers of Congress from 1988 to 2010 in health and defence sectors). Subsequently, we deliberately delimited the field of study of two huge areas of public action, restricting to the decision making position of two political fields: the expansion of health policies (i.e. from Clinton to Obama) and the “revolution in military affairs,” in other words Rumsfeld Reforms on the shape of American armies.

The first list of positions has been established with the Congressional Directories, available on the database Lexis Nexis

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(i) For the legislative area: staffers have been selected from the defence and the health committees and subcommittees.

(ii) For the executive area, we have considered in each sector: cabinet members working on defence and health public policies, the secretaries up to 5 hierarchic degrees underneath, agency directors and general military staff concerned. Among our executive staff, the Senate must confirm nominees: (a) The 15 secretaries cabinet agencies, deputy secretaries and the general counsels agencies (b) The director positions in the regulatory agencies (c) General military staff.

We have in turn reduced our initial population from 2263 “positional” actors identified by introducing a control variable: we selected, in our sociographic study, only the people who have occupied the identified position for at least 6 years over the period 1988 to 2010. In this way, we have obtained a reduced population of 399 people (funnel effect).

Within this new group of 399 people, we have carried out socio-biographical research on each person to constitute the OPERA Data Base, on which we have then carried out a sociographic analysis (see Chapter 2 supra). Thus, we have established a biography from combining information found on: institutional website (White House, DOD, DHHS, Congress), Who’s Who in America?, Leadership Library, First Street, Revolving Doors, Source Watch, Wikipedia, LegiStorm, LinkedIn, Federal Election Commission, at The Washington Post, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Project Vote Smart,, , On The,

We have afterwards in individual short notes produced some answers to the following questions: what degree of feminization of the population? For individuals, what level of qualification, university attended, initial job? What is specific about their career in power institutions? How long is their average career? Are they subject to specific flexibilities? What kind of job will they take after their activities in the government? Can we draw a typology of their institutional careers?

The second paradigm of Programmatic Approach: In depth interviews about reform ideas

The second empirical element of the programmatic approach follows a qualitative logic. This study aims to capture the role played in practice by some of the studied elites in the formulation of sectoral reforms in public policy. This allows a reconstruction of the trajectories of elite individuals and the policy-relevant ideas they bear through the selected policy sectors. The purpose of this is to assess their degree of involvement in the reform process studied. The in-depth interview allows an assessment of the empirical reality in this phenomenon.
To avoid reproducing the defects of the ‘positional’ approach to elites (i.e. we know that they occupy power position but we don’t know if/how and to what end they employ them), the programmatic approach recommends reducing elites samples to those who are reputed to be influential on political reforms. We have tested this approach through exploratory interviews, assessing the pertinence of selected elites position and the power and influence, of those who occupied them. Interviews have been carried out with ’key informants’ selected in the public and private sectors according to their reputation.
This first series of in ‘depth’ interviews with chosen elites based on criteria of reputation, and not of being necessarily in our initial sample; allowed us to test our interview framework (see below). Furthermore, the mobilisation of the ‘snowball effect’, which consists of asking people to suggest other important people from their point of view, enabled us to establish gradually a complementary list of elites, considered by their peers as influent on the studied sector reforms. From this point on, pursuit of the qualitative dimension of the programmatic approach has enabled us to incorporate among the sector elites population, actors who couldn’t be part of our reduced sample of ‘long timers’ (those who stayed more then 6 years in power position).

Those semi-structured interviews have been carried out following a common script used by all of the researchers. It included three blocs of questions: (i) social background (ii) the degree of involvement in the public decision making processes on public policies (iii) elements of reform on which they have been mobilised (ideas and tools defended). The objective was to collect data on their personal and professional trajectories, thus fleshing out the existing sociographic files so as to better reconstruct the reform options around which particular elites mobilized. Taking into account the historicity of professional trajectories allows us to see whether and to what extent these elite individuals change and adapt their view of the fate of certain reforms as a result of evolving collective understanding of these.