The Downside of Deadlines

With Congress having imposed a deadline of Sunday night for a “framework” debt ceiling deal, it’s worth reminding ourselves about the downside of deadlines. [-]

The Downside of Deadlines


Deadlines are ubiquitous institutions in government decision making, constraining both agencies andcourts. Yet these institutions are almost entirely ignored in formal models in institutional political science. We analyze deadlines as exogenously imposed institutions upon a government decision maker, asa means of elected officials exercising control over the the duration of administrative decision processes. Our formal model demonstrates how deadlines are successful at lowering the time to administrative decision. Yet our analysis also illuminates the unappreciated pitfalls of deadlines, or their “downside.” The effect of deadlines on regulatory behavior is highly non-linear, making imposition of deadlines a difficult task for even highly rational agents. Further, our model predicts that deadlines will increase the variance in the review time distribution under a large set of conditions and predicts that deadlines will increase the error rate in regulatory behavior, often in an exponential fashion. Our formal analysis helps to explainan expanding set of empirical findings about the effects of deadlines and suggests some of the limits ofdeadlines as an effective tool of control over policymaking and bureaucratic decisions.

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