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Privatization of federal government functions: Reagan, Clinton and the theory /action paradox

Peter Andrew Fairman, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Unlike the vast majority of privatization studies that examine efforts at the state and local levels, this dissertation focuses on national privatization policy by examining the actions of the Reagan and Clinton administrations. The paper begins with a review of the political and academic movements toward privatization that have occurred during the last thirty years. The volume then explores the small amount of privatization that took place during Reagan's time in office, despite his own forceful statements for privatization and public anti-government sentiment during his presidency. The Reagan administration seemed unaware of the political ramifications of its primary privatization effort, the attempted sale of numerous United States public lands, apparently believing that its anti-government ideology alone would bring political success. By contrast, the Clinton administration chose not to turn the privatization question into one of “big versus small” government, and instead sold the privatization-friendly Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act as a politically neutral management reform, thereby achieving what it wanted on the legislation. While there are potential implementation pitfalls in the law, the FAIR Act established a process that encouraged political debate regarding government's legitimate functions. The volume concludes that such dialogue is the only path to a political understanding regarding the privatization issue.

Subject Area

Political science|Public administration

Recommended Citation

Fairman, Peter Andrew, "Privatization of federal government functions: Reagan, Clinton and the theory /action paradox" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3027199.