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Policy Drift: Shared Powers and the Making of U.S. Law and Policy, Norma M. Riccucci

Reviewed by Josh M. Ryan



The “textbook” version of how public policy is created and implemented suggests that Congress enacts, the president executes, and policy exists in a near-permanent state until a future Congress and president revisit the issue. Norma M. Riccucci, in her comprehensive and thorough book, demonstrates that enacted public policy, rather than existing in a stable state, is instead in a state of flux as the courts, the president, and Congress continuously make changes to it. As she says, “…there is no finality to public policy or the policy cycle. It is ongoing and continuous” (p. 3). Building on previous work, she calls this process, “policy drift” and uses the issue-areas of privacy rights and surveillance policy, civil rights, and climate policy to demonstrate how power sharing across institutions, differing preferences, and exogenous shocks combine to produce fluctuations in policy.

The three topics on which she focuses her study are timely, and Riccucci does an excellent job of discussing the policy ins and outs in each area, concentrating on actions taken outside the realm of congressional politics. She ably discusses the interplay of bureaucratic implementation, federalism, congressional preferences, and public mood to describe how each contributes to the policy drift in these issue areas. This is no dry recitation of

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