We examine the political history of twelve twentieth-century efforts at comprehensive administrative reorganization in the United States. These efforts account for only a small fraction of administrative changes and do not seem to have had a major impact on administrative costs, efficiency, or control. They have been a source of frustration for presidents and others and have become regular and unlamented casualties of experience. Nevertheless, the idea of comprehensive administrative reorganization has been persistently resurrected by the political system. The history of comprehensive reorganization suggests that short-run outcomes are heavily influenced by the problematics of attention; that influence over long-run administrative development involves affecting gradually evolving systems of meaning; and that reorganization rhetoric and ritual affirm an interpretation of life at least as much as they are bases for short-run political decisions. We suggest some implications of such conclusions for a more general understanding of the organization of political life.
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