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Donald Moynihan

McCourt Chair, Georgetown University
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About Donald

Moynihan's research focuses on how government administrative processes work. Overarching themes in Moynihan's writings include how bureaucracy, confusing paperwork, and complex regulations often introduce delay and frustration into our experiences with government agencies. Moynihan also studies the behavioral effects of efforts to improve public sector outcomes through government reform. Moynihan serves governments and international organizations interested in public sector performance, and advocacy groups interested in reducing administrative burdens in different policy areas.

In the News

Opinion: "Trump Has a Master Plan for Destroying the ‘Deep State’," Donald Moynihan, The New York Times, November 27, 2023.
Opinion: "Trump’s Plan to Remove Merit From the Merit System," Donald Moynihan, The Hill, October 28, 2020.


"Administrative Burden: Policymaking by Other Means" (with Pamela Herd) (Russell Sage Foundation, 2018).

Shows how red tape and paperwork is deliberately imposed on individuals in a variety of social policy areas, voting and abortion.

"How Do Politicians Attribute Bureaucratic Responsibility for Performance? Negativity Bias and Interest Group Advocacy" (with Poul A. Nielsen). Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 27, no. 2 (2017): 269-283.

Shows through a survey experiment that politicians pay more attention to performance data when performance is low, and make decisions using this data through an ideological lens. `

"Bureaucratic Investments in Expertise: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Field Trial" (with Simon Calmar Andersen). Journal of Politics 78, no. 4 (2016): 1032-1044.

Uses a series of treatments (giving more autonomy, appealing to bureaucratic preferences, providing more useful data) to examine how to encourage school principals to use more performance data.

"Administrative Burdens: Learning, Psychological and Compliance Costs in Citizen-State Interactions" (with Pamela Herd and Hope Harvey). Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 25, no. 1 (2014): 43-69.

Describes how learning, compliance and psychological costs are constructed by political actors in the area of Medicaid.

"Government Reform, Political Ideology, and Administrative Burden: The Case of Performance Management in the Bush Administration" (with Stéphane Lavertu and David E. Lewis). Public Administration Review 73, no. 6 (November/December 2013): 845-857.

Shows how a performance management system under the Bush administration was applied more aggressively toward liberal agencies. Exemplifies how apparently neutral governmental reforms are used in ideological ways.

"The Dynamics of Performance Management: Constructing Information and Reform" (Georgetown University Press, 2008).

Examines the adoption of performance systems in US governments. Shows how governments have struggled to make these systems useful in practice. Recommends that governments move away from tying extrinsic rewards to indicators, and instead to build a culture of organizational learning.