Snap exclusions and the role of citizen participation in policy-making

Social Philosophy and Policy 38 (1):266-288 (2021)
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This essay uses a specific example—proposals to exclude sugary drinks from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program —to explore some features of the contemporary U.S. administrative state. Dating back to the Wilsonian origins of the U.S. administrative state there has been uncertainty about whether we can and should separate politics and administration. On the traditional view, the agencies are to be kept separate from politics—technocratic and value-neutral—although they are indirectly accountable to the president and Congress. The SNAP exclusions example shows, however, that agencies often must make complex and controversial decisions on their own, decisions that go beyond value-neutral technocratic administration. When authorizing legislation has multiple goals, as we’ll argue is the case in the SNAP example, an agency will have to choose between conflicting statutory mandates. Moreover, as the SNAP example shows, agencies often face complex normative questions of ethics and justice that go beyond the question of how to balance competing aims. The appropriate response to the SNAP exclusions example is not to keep politics out of administrative decision-making, but to develop procedures that allow ethical and political questions to be addressed in agency policy-making, consistent with overarching commitments to fairness and democracy.



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