The Influence of Organizations and Institutions on Wetland Policy Stability: The Rapanos Case

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This paper uses a case study of wetland regulation in the United States to develop elements of a theory about institutional stability and change in policy processes involving large public organizations. This theoretical approach draws on the Institutional Analysis and Development framework to understand events that are not well explained by other policy theories. Our approach accounts for the theoretically unexpected outcomes of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Rapanos v. United States, which stood to change the way the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate the filling of wetlands. We propose a typology of institutional types that operate inside public organizations, and use process tracing to show how tacit institutions, those created informally within public organizations, can play key roles in determining the outcomes of policy processes. In the Rapanos case, informal coordination mechanisms enabled regulators and members of the regulated community to preserve substantially the pre-ruling status quo. The key role of these microlevel interactions in shaping the macrolevel behaviors of public organizations underscores the importance of further research investigating how, in similar cases, different behavioral mechanisms interact in often complex and unexpected ways to determine the outcomes of policy processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-364
Number of pages22
JournalPolicy Studies Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Bureaucracy
  • Institutional analysis
  • Institutions
  • Organizations
  • Policy implementation
  • Regulatory policy
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Wetlands


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