Sociology Publications and Other Works


The Organization and Impact of Inspector Discretion in a Regulatory Bureaucracy

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Recent trends in regulatory bureaucracies in the United States indicate a shift toward detailed, rigid mandates. In part, this movement represents an attempt to weave an increasingly seamless web of non-discretionary policies for field-level inspectorates. This paper examines the organization of inspection and enforcement practices in such an agency--the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The creators of the enabling legislation and the agency top executives went to great lengths to circumvent inspector discretion. Questionnaire and interview data on the agency's inspector corps suggest that such efforts were only partially successful. Not only do field-level personnel employ discretionary practices, but the nature of the regulated industry structures the context of inspector discretion. We show a relationship between corporate size and the exercise of inspector discretion. We also show that patterns of inspector discretion affect the size of civil fines imposed for regulatory violations.

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