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World Political Science Review

Volume 6, Issue 1 2010 Article 7

Bureaucracy and Geography: Geographic

Relocation of the Norwegian Central
Jarle Trondal Charlotte Kiland

University of Agder, Norway,

University of Agder, Norway,

Originally published as Charlotte Kiland and Jarle Trondal (2009) Byrakrati og geografi - ge-
ografisk relokalisering av norsk sentralforvaltning. Norsk statsvitenskapelig tidsskrift 25(4):331-
352. Reprinted with permission from Torbjorn L. Knutsen.

Produced by The Berkeley Electronic Press.

Bureaucracy and Geography: Geographic
Relocation of the Norwegian Central
Jarle Trondal and Charlotte Kiland


How did the Norwegian government succeed in the geographic relocation of a number of do-
mestic agencies? This study suggests an organisational theory approach to explain the success. It
argues that formal organisation of the decision-making process in government largely explains the
success of the relocation reform. The government had to contend with: physical relocation of insti-
tutions tending to mobilise the attention and resistance of affected stakeholders, earlier attempts at
physical relocation of agencies largely failing, and the absence of parliamentary majority. Studies
demonstrate that large-scale reform processes tend to be characterised by medium degrees of hier-
archical control. Instrumental leadership tends to be present in minor institutional reforms than in
large-scale reforms. This study suggests that large-scale physical relocation of agencies was com-
pleted largely through the formal design of the reform process, i.e. by safeguarding hierarchical
leadership from the government.

KEYWORDS: administrative policy, management, formal organization, geographic relocation,

government agencies

The translation of this article was funded by Globiusfondet.

Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration


Public administration is a necessary prerequisite in order for political goals to be

translated into public action. The administration brings leadership, review
capacity, implementation and learning to political processes. It makes formal
decisions within a legal framework. It seems obvious that it is impossible for the
administration to play such a role without to some extent putting its stamp on
public policy. Public action will to a varying degree reflect features about the
inner organization and outer network of the administration through the
personnel, the institutional history, and the geographic location of the
administration (Christensen and Egeberg 1997; Egeberg 2003; Egeberg and
Trondal 2009; Lgreid and Olsen 1978; Olsen 1983). The dominant role of the
central administration in the political system makes it reasonable to assume that
the geographic relocation of the entire or parts of the administration impacts upon
public policy. Administrative policy encompasses all kinds of politics directed
towards the infrastructure of administration that is, the deliberate change of
formal structures, procedures and personnel (Jacobsen and Roness 2008:145).
This article expands the definition of administrative politics so as to also
encompass the deliberate altering of the physical structure and geographic
location of administration.
How does government ensure support for a change of the geographic
location of central administrative functions? This is the question raised by this
article. We argue that such change can be explained to a great extent by the
formal organization of the decision-making process. This organizational
explanation is not exhaustive, but seems crucial in explaining the 2003 relocation
of governmental supervisory agencies.
The article provides a series of snapshots of the decision-making processes
surrounding the relocation of government agencies out of the Norwegian capital
of Oslo to cities in other parts of the country. In many ways, in carrying out this
work, the Bondevik government had much going against it. With respect to
political steering, the past few decades of research have revealed increasing
constraints on the government as well as on individual government ministers
(Christensen and Lgreid 2002b; Engelstad and sterud 2004). Olsen (1983:104)
has characterized the government as a clearance house with acute capacity
problems. Compared to the old foxes of the bureaucratic apparatus, the
government minister finds himself reduced to being a passenger in his own
ministry. The conditions for the political steering of public policy in general, and
in singular cases in particular, are more complex and complicated than they used
to be. In addition to this, since the contents of the Bondevik reform proposal was
the geographic relocation of central administration units, there were a number of
potential pitfalls. The physical relocation of institutions often leads to the

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World Political Science Review, Vol. 6 [2010], Iss. 1, Art. 7

attention of and resistance from affected institutions. Earlier attempts at such

relocation have largely failed, and the Bondevik government could not rely for
support on any majority in the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting.
Studies reveal that major reform processes are characterized by limited
opportunities on the part of the political-administrative leadership to command
and control the process. An element of instrumental leadership seems to be more
important in more limited reorganizations compared to large-scale administrative
reform (Egeberg 1984). Still, this study shows that it was the formal organization
of the decision-making processes itself that led to the relocating of government
agencies on a large scale. In short, the formal organization involved hierarchical
leadership from the government and selective inclusion (and exclusion) of the
affected parties.
Previous studies show that major reorganization decisions are more easily
pushed through when affected parties are excluded from the actual review process
(Meyer and Stensaker 2009), whereas the likelihood of the relocation decision
actually being implemented later on increases when affected parties are included
in the process (Lien and Fremstad 1989). This study trains it main attention on the
review phase of the relocation process conducted by the government and the
municipalities; only to a lesser degree does it touch on the decision phase in
Parliament (Furumo 2006; Hommen 2003; Melbye 2007). The study finds that the
formal organization of the decision-making process most likely was essential with
respect to the treatment of the issue in Parliament and during the subsequent
implementation process.
The purpose of the article is to employ organizational theory to shed light
on one concrete decision-making process, namely that of the Postal and
Telecommunications Agency (PT) [Post- og Teletilsynet], as well as on the
general case of relocating government agencies. The case-selection of the PT was
made for pragmatic reasons our project group has been granted privileged
access to this body and has thus been exceptionally well qualified with respect to
looking into this particular decision-making process. The empirical data is drawn
from an extensive series of interviews with informants from the Bondevik II
government, government ministries, the PT, local and regional governments, and
conducted between 2008 and 2009.
In the history of Norwegian public administration, no extensive
geographic relocation of governmental regulatory bodies has ever occurred.
Attempts were made in the 1970s and 1980s, but these efforts all more or less
failed (Stren 1983). A government White Paper on public agencies (St.meld. no.
17, 2002-03: Om statlige tilsyn) reintroduced the idea that agencies should be
relocated and suggested a joint relocation of all such agencies from the nations
capital move them out of Oslo and establish them in several other cities
around the country. From the perspective of administrative history, the execution 2
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

of this idea the relocation of seven government agencies from Oslo is one of a
kind. Never before have so many agencies and civil servants been moved around
the country; the total number involved around 900 civil servants. One of the
reasons for the relocation was the goal of increased autonomy for the agencies
vis--vis government ministries and the political leadership (Hommen 2003:39;
Norman 2004:98). During that same period, there was also an increased debate
about reforming state agencies into more autonomous forms of organization and
more liberal regulatory frameworks (Lgreid et al. 2008:3).
This article is structured in the following way: The next section sketches
out an organizational theory perspective from which certain empirical predictions
are derived. Section three presents the empirical data of the study. Finally, we
provide an empirical overview of the decision-making process surrounding
government agencies in general, and the PT in particular. This section reveals two
partially overlapping decision sequences first, the central decision-making
process within government and government ministries, second the local decision-
making processes in the affected municipalities.

An organizational theory perspective

The responsibility for reforming the civil service has traditionally been assigned
to the government; constitutionally it has been anchored in the government, and
headed by the Prime Minister as well as the government minister in charge of
administrative affairs. Yet, the actual distribution of roles between the political
leadership, government ministries and regulatory bodies may often be less clear
than what the constitution suggests. One of the central assumptions of this section
is that both decision-making behavior and the understanding of roles have been
systematically shaped by the formal organization of concrete decision-making
An organizational theory perspective assumes bounded rationality in the
political-administrative leadership. It also assumes that decision-making processes
with respect to the relocation of central administrative entities will be conditioned
by the constraints implied by such leadership. Bounded rationality implies the
existence of cognitive constraints with respect to the gathering of information, the
working of information, as well as of its use (Simon 1957). Roles such as civil
servant or government minister often become complex when faced with
unfamiliar and contradictory decision-making contexts. One reason why formal
organizational structures shape the decision-making behavior of the actors is that
organizational structures systematically sort and filter (ir)relevant decision-
making information. The formal organization of political-administrative
institutions simplifies the search for relevant information and filters the
conceptions of what is perceived as relevant problems, solutions and

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consequences (Egeberg 2003; Thelen and Steinmo 1992). Through this buffer
function, local rationality is systematically aggregated into a collective
organizational rationality. Consequently, the organizational distribution of
relevant decision-making information impacts on the ways in which the actors
think and act, and thus represent the premise upon which decision-making in
reform processes rests.
An organizational perspective emphasizes the sectoral fragmentation and
horizontal breakdown of executive power. The notion of a vertically ordered
hierarchy of actors and a unitary and stable preference structure amongst the
government and civil service is being challenged. According to Gulick (1937),
examples of organization beyond the territorial are expressed within
administrative institutions. Within the Norwegian civil service we primarily find
horizontal specialization based on purpose and function, both within the specific
government ministries and in the relevant directorates and agencies. At regional
and local levels institutions are organized according to their objective as well as
the kind of process organization found for instance with respect to operation
controls (Christensen et al. 2002:149). Thus, civil servants have sectoral mandates
shaped by the management of their own government ministries or agencies.
Decision-making processes will to a lesser extent be coordinated through a
unified hierarchy and command structure, and to a greater extent within each
singular administrative field, based on the basic roles, routines and rules of
government ministries and agencies. The civil servants represent formalized
sector-specific portfolios, characterized by a tradition of written statements and
formalized work procedures (Weber 1964). The horizontal specialization of
government ministries and agencies will counteract horizontally integrated reform
processes. Government ministers and civil servants may easily come to perceive
of themselves as sectoral representatives and only secondarily as representatives
of the entire government and/or civil service.
This is a perspective that also assumes that the formal organization of
singular processes systematically shapes the thoughts and actions of the actors.
Thus, the relocating of administrative bodies can be controlled by the political-
administrative management through the organizational design of concrete
decision-making processes. If the government seeks to maximize its control over
the reform process, a clear distinction can be made between politics and
administration, whereby the reform of the central administration primarily
becomes a concern of the political leadership (Friedman 2008:484). Reforming
the central administration, including decisions concerning the relocation of
singular institutions, can be initiated and governed by the political-administrative
From an organizational theory perspective the relocation of the
administration can be perceived as a consequence of deliberate action taken on the 4
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

part of the political-administrative leadership, which is where we will find the

overview and the power with respect to relevant goals and means. Extensive
reform, as for instance the geographic relocation of a series of central
administrative agencies, can be carried out by leaders with extensive knowledge,
power and political-administrative resources with respect to reform (March and
Olsen 1989). The issue of power is tied in with whether or not the political-
administrative leadership has command over those reform measures required in
order to achieve the desired goals. The issue of knowledge has to do with whether
or not the management has the necessary understanding of the connections
between reform measures and desired goals (Christensen and Lgreid 2002a:18-
Relocation processes, both in terms of their scope and geography, are
controlled by a hierarchy of actors. Within the central administration of the state,
the government undertakes the horizontal coordination of the reform programs of
the different government ministries within each separate policy area. With respect
to major reform projects, the Office of the Prime Minister (Statsministerens
kontor or SMK) may easily have its own peculiar interdepartmental and
coordinating function. There is reason to believe that the Prime Minister takes
more of an active part in large-scale administrative reform, in particular when
these processes attract political attention and party-political opposition. Sectoral
government ministries with particular administrative responsibilities like the
then Ministry of Labor and Administration are also expected to play a central
part in such relocation processes. Relocating central administrative bodies may
also involve the regional and local political-administrative management,
particularly in areas that are directly affected by the relocation of agencies.
Administrative reform affecting local and regional actors might also lead to the
local and regional mobilization of local and regional political-administrative
An organizational theory perspective may also encompass actors from
outside the political-administrative leadership. The hierarchy of actors can be
deliberately dismantled through organizational design. In the neo-corporate
literature, the agenda of the authorities is penetrated by external non-
governmental organizations through the erection of councils and committees
(Mazey and Richardson 2001). Establishing committees with external
representation is an enduring tradition within the Norwegian central
administration. In this way, actors, problems and solutions are imported into the
reform process. One might imagine that local and regional authorities participate
in the reform process of the central administration through invitation. In the same
way, bureaucrats on the ground can be included in the reform process. However,
the political-administrative leadership has to its disposal policy instruments like
the right of initiative, the right to recall and the right to dissolve (Olsen

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1988:162). When push comes to shove, bureaucrats are delegates, spokesmen or

agents (idem).
An organizational theory perspective also emphasizes how reform
processes can be characterized by a hierarchy of issues: Administrative reforms in
general, and relocation processes in particular, can be defined in territorial terms
(national concerns) and comprise the common preferences of the territory. The
management may perceive of relocation processes as a means to reaching other
goals. The Agency White Paper that the relocation of 7 government agencies
rested upon emphasized the following arguments for and against the relocation of
these agencies out of the Oslo region: Access to highly competent labor, access
to clusters of competence, the strengthening of regional centers, changes to
patterns of competence and work practices, costs of contact, cost savings, and
concerns for the employees (White Paper no. 17 (2002-03):70-73). The
governments main vantage point was one of utilizing the collective resources of
the entire country (ibid.:73).
Political entrepreneurs go beyond mere agenda-setting. They are also able
to control the way in which issues are being shaped and defined (Hogwood 1987).
Following from the fact that the agenda becomes both larger and more complex,
in addition to making substantive decisions political-administrative leadership to
an even greater degree consists of organizing decision-making processes. Political
leaders become organizational designers (Egeberg 2003; Hammond 1986; Olsen
1983). The fight over agenda-setting includes not only the posing of desired
problems, solutions and consequences; this battle also encompasses the
elimination of undesirable issues from the agenda through the utilization of
organizational design (Hogwood 1987; March and Olsen 1989).
Yet, Brunsson (1985) emphasizes that one of the basic problems of
hierarchical leadership in organizational reform has to do with the balancing of
different decision-making alternatives in situations characterized by uncertainty
by incomplete information or unclear links between goals and means. Decisions
rarely rest solely on secure knowledge and trust in an obvious outcome. Thus,
organizations have to be able to absorb uncertainty by balancing different degrees
of decision-making rationality and action rationality. The greater the
organizations emphasis on gathering complete and absolute information,
clarifying every conceivable alternative and assessing the potential consequences,
the more paralyzed it might become. The decision-making processes may end up
being extremely drawn-out, and decisional uncertainty might be generated
through the gathering of contradictory information and the mobilization of
resistance. Action on the other hand, may easily presuppose that the information
gathering is limited to just a few and narrowly ranged alternatives (Brunsson
1985). Decisional uncertainty can be overcome by stressing resolutions and action
at the expense of review and inquiry, and that by mobilizing support for the final 6
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

decision e.g., by filtering out contradictory expectations, simplifying

information, and reducing the amount of alternatives. Action rationality is ensured
by organizing decision-making processes such that there are tight deadlines, few
decision-making sequences and a high decisional pace.

Data material and methods

The empirical data rests on an extensive interview survey made in 2008-2009

with informants from the political-administrative leadership of the Bondevik II
government, government ministries, the PT, municipalities and regional
authorities. The data gathering process consisted of two phases. First, actors from
the most central municipalities and regional authorities were interviewed. The
informants comprised both members of the local political-administrative
leadership and lobbyists. The second phase of the data gathering was based on
interviews with PT employees as well as relevant actors from the government and
different government ministries. The sample consists of a total of 41 informants.
In addition to this, the data material is based on extensive archival material
from the PT press archives, which contains newspaper clippings with respect to
the political treatment of White Paper no 17 (2002-03), the decision-making
process concerning the relocation of agencies, as well as the relocation process
itself. In addition to this, the article draws upon information from the White Paper
on government agencies itself (White Paper no 17 (2002-03)), as well as on prior
Finding good data is always hard. Considering the political sensitivity that
surrounded this decision-making process, it was a challenge to gain access to
informants at departmental and governmental levels. Out of the 41 interviews,
seven were drawn from ministries and the government, 15 from the PT, and 19
from municipal and regional authorities. The modest number of ministerial and
governmental informants primarily reflects the fact that the political decision-
making processes comprises a relatively limited amount of actors (see below).

Government agencies on the move

The following process analysis is divided into two partially overlapping decision-
making sequences: First we present the central decision-making processes
encompassing the review- and decision-making process within the government,
ministries, and to some extent the Parliament. Then we present the local
decision-making processes, primarily limited to a study of local and regional
decision-making processes in the affected regions. The analysis only draws out
the main features of these processes.

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The central decision-making processes; stages and characteristics

Previous studies reveal that larger reform processes are often marked by limited
political-administrative steering. More limited reorganization processes seem to
involve a higher degree of instrumental leadership than larger administrative
reforms (Egeberg 1984). Even if attempts in the 1970s and -80s at small-scale
relocation of government agencies failed (Stren 1983), this section shows that
large-scale relocations of government agencies was ensured through a formal
organization in support of hierarchical leadership, aided by local mobilization and
What immediately distinguishes previous attempts at relocating
government agencies from the 2003 cases was the formal organization of the
different processes. The government has earlier and over a long time-span
presented Parliament with a number of singular and isolated relocation cases.
These proposals have largely been reviewed by the affected agencies. As a
consequence of the review process becoming temporally drawn out, there has
been a considerable turnover in terms of decision-makers. A full nine
governments and 16 government ministers have been involved (Stren 1983). A
direct consequence of this was weak political leadership of the decision-making
processes. Stre (1983) shows how each and every isolated relocation case of the
1970s and -80s was pulverized as a consequence of Parliament providing support
for the principle of relocation only. This support vanished once a relocation issue
became a concrete one. In 2003, the government presented Parliament with a
general and extensive agency package. In a controlled and closed political
process, Parliament was presented with a general and extensive relocation plan
a package deal.

The reform program

On 24 January 2002, the Minister for Labor and Administrative Affairs, Victor D.
Norman, presented Parliament with an account of the governments reform
program, From word to action. The modernization, rationalization and
simplification of the public sector. This reform program contained a proposal for
the relocation of government agencies. Minister Norman also informed
Parliament that the government is also working on a review of government
agencies, and that this will be presented to Parliament as a separate proposal at a
later date. The Ministers intention was to introduce a series of measures designed
to strengthening and simplifying the control- and supervisory function, increasing
the autonomy of the supervisory agencies, strengthening their specialist
competency, and selecting a beneficial geographical location for each of the
agencies. It was also argued that a geographic relocation would strengthen 8
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

agencies autonomy by reducing the informal contacts between governments

ministries and the agencies. Finally, the government had included a de-
centralizing principle as a plank in its political platform.1 Thus, Victor Normans
proposal was solidly tied to this platform. Nevertheless, as this study shows,
Norman took both the government and his own political party by surprise by
publicly announcing his relocation proposal before it had been cleared within the
The government published its relocation White Paper in its entirety on 24
January 2003. The main contents, however, had been public knowledge ever since
the plan was announced at a press conference a year previously. The
Parliamentary resolution on the relocation of 7 agencies was made on 6 June
2003. When Minister Victor Norman was reviewing the relocation proposal he
appointed a committee of state secretaries. The committee was headed by the
Ministers personal secretary, who reported directly to Norman. Thus, early on the
process was organized around the government minister. From April until
September 2002, this committee met four times, discussing the overriding purpose
of the reform. During this phase, explicitly in order to prevent political attention,
noise and resistance, Norman deliberately decided that the relocation issue should
not become subject to a full government debate involving all government
members. He chose a path of speedy preparation and treatment of the relocation
issue, which also implied excluding the representatives of the civil service, the
unions and the agencies (interview). The Minister was very much aware of how
the failed relocation efforts of the 1970s and -80s had floundered on the lack of
political leadership (Meyer and Stensaker 2009:9).

The review process

The decision-making process entered its second phase in September 2002, as

Minister Norman received the go-ahead from the government to start working on
an agency white paper. Norman cherry-picked his own people to serve on a
secretariat during the molding of the white paper (Hommen 2003:23). This phase
of the decision-making process involved a limited number of state secretaries as
well as two civil servants from the Labor and Administration Ministry (AAD).
The actual writing of the white paper (no 17 (2002-03)) chapter on the relocation
of government agencies was the work of these two civil servants only, as well as
the AAD state secretary (interview). The reason behind the rigid organization of
the process was to get the review phase over with in a hurry. It was also
confirmed that the scope of the review was substantively limited and that in

This principle was included in the declaration (the so-called Semb declaration), which preceded
the formation of the Bondevik II (coalition) government.

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general this way of crafting a white paper is highly unusual. It was done in a
closed manner in particular with respect to the shaping of the proposal about the
relocation of government agencies. Framing this chapter took about two weeks

The reasoning was not all that meticulous, but that is kind of fair enough. I
think it would have been far worse if the white paper gave the impression
that this had been thoroughly reviewed But it is obviously a problem
that we were not able to map the strengths and weaknesses of such a
political review process in the manner that the regulations stipulate. The
civil service did not start working on this until two weeks before the press
conference. Considering that we normally spend two years on such
processes (interview).

Still, Norman and the project group faced challenges with respect to the cost of
relocation. A couple of AAD civil servants conducted a cost analysis, which was
massively criticized, both by the Ministry of Finance and by the labor
organizations (Hommen 2003:22). In December 2002, only weeks after Norman
had made the relocation plans public, he received a letter from Finance Secretary
Lorentsen, where the AAD was reminded about the regulatory framework
governing public reviews. In the letter he sharply criticized the proposal, with
particular reference to the fact that the economic estimates did not stand up to
scrutiny. Referring to the regulatory framework, the Finance Secretary called
attention to the lack of a proper review (Aftenposten March 14, 2003). Lorentsen
also submitted that the white paper arrived too early and that it was too badly
prepared. Further, the criticism urged that it only to a limited extent drew on
reviews and reports (Melbye 2007:49). When the Agency White Paper was later
discussed in Parliament, Trond Giske of the Labor Party described it as extremely
sketchy (Hommen 2003:29). This criticism supports the impression that the
review of the proposal to relocate government agencies was deliberately
characterized by a low degree of decision-making rationality and a high degree of
action rationality. There were few opposing views on the part the other affected
government ministers against Normans proposal, and the Agency White Paper
was presented to Parliament by a united government (Furumo 2006:46).
Thus, the review phase of the relocation proposal was characterized by a
limited number of actors that were controlled top-down by the AAD minister,
secrecy towards affected parties, tight deadlines, and only limited review of
alternatives and consequences. Other affected ministers and their permanent
secretaries had little knowledge of the concrete relocation alternatives before mid-
November 2002, when the government made its decision. The proposal of actual
places for relocation was aired with affected government ministers within the 10
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

Conservative Party and the Christian Peoples Party. These government ministers
had no objections to the proposed places for relocation, and the proposals were
formally passed by a plenary government.
Minister Normans strategy was to distinguish political and administrative
arenas of decision-making during the review phase. The reasoning was that while
it would be good to get the review process over with as soon as possible, the
implementation process was supposed to last several years (Meyer and Stensaker
2009). Another consequence of the short review period was that the government
did not go through with a regular hearing of the proposal (Melbye 2007:41). The
agency management was constantly reassured by the leadership of the Ministry of
Transport and Communications that relocation on their part was highly unlikely.
This gives us reason to believe that the Ministry of Transport and
Communications only had a very limited role to play in the relocation decision.

We constantly kept talking to the Ministry of Transport and

Communications that in case of relocation, we most likely would be
moved to Bergen alongside the Norwegian Competition Authority. But we
didnt know anything. There were no signals to be interpreted. Norman
had to prevent the civil service from going crazy, and if he had been
talking too much, he would have run the risk of stalling the entire process

Throughout the review process, Victor Norman and his secretariat planned
which groups of actors should be included early on and which groups of actors
should be kept out of the loop until the final phase of the decision-making
process. The government also anticipated the reactions of the Parliament, thus
presenting an agency package that strategically distributed agencies across
different geographic regions so as to secure a majority for the proposal in the
national assembly. The debate that ensued in Parliament served to confirm the
governments reasoning: The parliamentary conflict lines criss-crossed regular
party lines with a geographical pattern emerging in the sense that the
representatives from Oslo ended up standing against the representatives from the
other regions (Melbye 2007). Before the government presented the Agency White
Paper, the PT higher management learnt from the Ministry of Transport and
Communication that the PT would not be relocated.

Moving the Norwegian Competition Authority to Bergen can be perceived

as a rational decision, considering the expertise of the Norwegian School
of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, but moving the
Postal and Telecommunications Agency to Lillesand, whats the rationale
behind that? (interview)

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Informants within the Ministry of Transport and Communications confirm the

assumption that if the PT were to be moved, it would have been moved with the
Norwegian Competition Authority to Bergen. When it was made clear that the PT
instead would be moved to the Agder city [Agder being the southernmost
region in Norway] (White Paper no 17 (2002-03):77), several informants within
the PT expressed confusion as to the lack of an exactly specified location. At this
time, most of the people within the agency were unfamiliar with the historic lines
of conflict between east and west Agder and with the rivalries between cities of
the two parts. Until the localization decision was made, the mayor of Kristiansand
was the only local actor who directly contacted the director of the agency, and
who early on expressed any interest in bringing the agency to Kristiansand
(interview). In a letter to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, dated
December 13, 2002, the director of the PT argues strongly that Kristiansand
should become the eventual location.

With hindsight, we realized that a political compromise was important,

and thus ended up locating the agency in Lillesand. Taking the conflict
and rivalry between the eastern and western cities in the region into
account, locating the agency in Kristiansand would have resulted in too
much noise. Lillesand stood out as the compromise solution and the result
of a lack of good arguments (interview).

By keeping the affected agencies out of the review phase, several agencies were
caught by surprise when the proposal was made public. Several informants within
the PT expressed bewilderment as to why the agency would be located in such a
tiny southern town.

It could of course be that the PT would be moved to Agder in order to

compensate for the job losses that occurred when Ericsson moved out of
Grimstad [Lillesands neighboring town]. But this line of reasoning has no
relevance with respect to expertise. We are no longer a technical agency,
and we havent been since 1985. Victor Norman probably did not
understand this. Several of the local actors also missed out in this respect.
The mayor of Grimstad argued very strongly that preserving the citys
technical expertise was important, and was evidently not aware of what
kind of expertise the agency actually has (interview).

The Agency White Paper line of reasoning was not well received by the affected
groups (interview). Several of the PT informants emphasized the access to 12
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

relevant expertise and their relations with the objects sorting under the agency as
reasons why the agency ought not to be moved.

I never understood why Norman didnt use the argument that this would
create jobs in the regional districts. In that case, the agency relocation
would have made sense. But what he suggested was that the expertise
needed replacing, as if the expertise out there was better than what we had
inside the agency (interview).

The argument about increasing the autonomy of the government agencies by

increasing the geographical distance to the center also fueled strong reactions
within the PT, as they pointed out exactly the actual autonomy that they already
had vis--vis the ministry, independently of their geographic location.

The argument about increasing our autonomy really just highlights the
lack of a rationale behind the argument. We have never been controlled by
the ministry to any great extent. This is a phony line of reasoning. We
have always had a major degree of authority delegated to us. 10-15 years
ago independence was a big talking point, but not today. Also, we are
subordinate to the ministry, and they influence us anyway if they want to,
independently of our geographic location. We have never been controlled
by the ministry to any great extent (interview).

Despite the agency relocation decision formally being grounded in the Ministry of
Transport and Communications, none of the PT informants thought that the
political leadership of the Ministry of Transport and Communications had played
any central role. On the contrary, some of the informants emphasized the lack of
political leadership on the part of the Ministry.

I do not think that Skogsholm [the government Minister at the time] was
involved in the process until the very end, when the decision was to be
made. She never participated. She was the one formally in charge of
making the decision, but no one has any doubt that this was primarily the
handiwork of Victor [the current AAD minister] and the government

It was a major shock when it became clear that the PT would be moved out of
Oslo. Representatives of the upper management of the agency as well as other PT
employees describe how the administrative management of the Ministry of
Transport and Communications handled the reactions within the agency. At an
information meeting in the PT shortly after the relocation decision had been

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World Political Science Review, Vol. 6 [2010], Iss. 1, Art. 7

announced, the administrative management of the Ministry of Transport and

Communications presented the necessary information about the decision.

Following the decision, at the ministry they constantly kept emphasizing:

keep in mind that this is just politics It seemed like it had taken them
as much by surprise as it had us (interview).

At a relatively late stage of the review and decision-making phase, when it was
already well-known that the PT would be relocated, the agencys employees, first
and foremost represented by the unions, got involved. They involved themselves
actively, fighting against the governments relocation plan, and actively lobbied
the Parliament. With the agency director as well as others within the PT
management, they made their view of the Agency White Paper well-known, both
in the media and at several conferences. The same type of resistance from the
employees was to be found in each and every affected agency (Knutsen 2009).

Our director is clever, he never let the media in any doubt as to his
opinion, and this felt really good to the rest of us in the agency, but then
again, in the aftermath of the relocation decision, he has been extremely
loyal towards it (interview).

Also right after the decision to relocate the PT, reactions were strong and
frustration was major (interview). The agency upper management had to balance
their resistance against the reasoning of the political decision and their loyalty
towards the government. One of its members explained how:

When the decision was made, I was in Hong Kong. I was sitting in the
hotel and decided to call a journalist in the [business] newspaper Dagens
Nringsliv. In this way, I managed to get good publicity in the newspaper,
where the headline Rubbish referred to my characterization of the
reasoning behind the Ministrys decision not the decision itself, but the
reasoning behind it. Which is probably why my outburst was deemed
acceptable. I have colleagues who to this day cannot understand how I
managed to keep my job But I think the civil service liked it, I have
received some indications that go in that direction, even if they told me
that I could not pull a stunt like this again. I received a lot of goodwill you
seefrom it. They appreciated that I demonstrated my frustration with the
reasoning at the same time as they realized that I had to be loyal towards
the decision itself. All the employees understood this. Officially, at some
stage I had to fall in line and be loyal towards the political management, 14
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

but at the same time, they knew what my real feelings were whenever they
talked to me at the hotel bar in the evening (interview).

Union representatives describe the processes in several of the other

agencies as more dramatic than in the PT. In several of these agencies, priests and
psychologists were included at gatherings that had been organized for the
employees and where the internal conflicts in some cases were quite considerable
(interview). The unions and the agency directors argued strongly against
relocation in the Parliament (Melbye 2007). Within the PT, they managed to
remain united, and some of the reason for this was a director who managed to
balance the autonomy of the agency expertise against his political loyalties.
The interviews illustrate how the agency management strategically
communicated the frustration with the reasoning within the Agency White Paper.
Thus, processes internal to the affected agencies can be seen as a direct
consequence of the closed organization of the AAD review phase.

Parliament debate

The third phase of the decision-making process concerns the actual decision made
by the Parliament. This phase reveals how the proposals fate in the Parliament to
a large extent was contingent on the formal organization of the review phase.
When the Agency White Paper was presented in Parliament on June 6, 2003, all
the attention fell on the relocation issue itself. The principal issues to the White
Paper were only to a limited extent discussed by the committee and by the
While the review phase was characterized by secrecy and a scarcity of
actors, the decision-making phase in the Parliament was characterized by many
mobilized actors, considerable public attention, political discussion and conflict,
as well as extensive lobbying on the part of affected agencies and local city
authorities (Furumo 2006). Also, it was during this phase that the resistance
among the unions, which up until now had been excluded from the process,
became massive. Exactly because those actors that were perceived as the
potentially greatest opponents of the reform had been systematically excluded
from the process within the government, their mobilizing against the reform
started very late. This late mobilizing did not manage to halt or alter the
governments proposal. The Agency White Paper passed through the Parliament
after a compromise was hammered out with the Labor Party and the Socialist
Party, where the formal autonomy of the agencies was sacrificed at the altar of
relocation. Thus, the relocation part of the proposal passed through Parliament
unchanged (Meyer and Stensaker 2009).

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All our informants point out that the relocation of government agencies in
general, and the PT in particular, to a large extent was a top-down process on the
part of AAD Minister Victor Norman. Several of them characterize the agency
reform as his personal project. Through his academic background as professor of
economics, Norman had in his research work, his involvement in review cases,
and as a highly profiled participant in the public debate, expressed clear
preferences with respect to economic regulation theories, institutional autonomy
and the distribution of institutional roles (interview). For several years before he
became government Minister, he had been outspoken about the need for more
autonomous agencies (Hommen 2003; Meyer and Stensaker 2009). His research
on clusters and regulatory capture was well-known by many of the informants
both in the PT, the government ministries and in the government itself. In the PT,
several informants even expressed sympathy and agreement with his reasoning
(interview). When White Paper no 17 (2002-03) arrived, several agency members
were convinced that the affected agencies would be collectively relocated to
Bergen or Trondheim a kind of functional co-localization in line with Normans
reasoning that expertise should be spread so as to create genuine administrative
centers of gravity beyond Oslo a kind of Norwegian polycentrism. However, in
the Agency White Paper none of the professional reasons for the relocation was
emphasized. Instead, the White Paper employed arguments along the lines of
access to highly qualified labor, access to clusters of expertise, the strengthening
of regional centers, the altering of work methods and competency, contact costs,
cost cuts, and concerns for the employees (White Paper no 17 (2002-03):70-73).
When the government presented the Agency White Paper, Victor Norman
emphasized that the reason for this was not that the Norwegian agencies were
doing a bad job, but that the reform would be introduced as a precautionary
measure. Low decision-making rationality, a superficial impact assessment and
the exclusion of affected agencies from the review process, contributed to a
situation where the agencies employees found it hard to accept the reasoning
behind the proposal (interview). Norman and the government had found a
solution, but without having a problem that actually needed solving. Which
problem the relocation was supposed to address, was not at all obvious. The way
in which the process was formally organized still ensured that the relocation
proposal was accepted by Parliament. 16
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration


From an empirical perspective, it becomes clear how the temporal organization of

the process became crucial to the decision-making process and how orchestrating,
sequencing and pace were important with respect to getting Normans proposal
through in the government and Parliament. Norman exploited a political
opportunity once he was admitted as a government Minister: His solution was to
initiate a decision-making process that had to be fast and rigidly controlled from
the top, where the range of involved actors had to be constrained and where
potential opponents excluded from the process for as long as possible. The
minister also seemed very conscious about initiating a process consisting of as
few sequences as possible, so as to ensure a speedy review and to prevent
mobilization of potential resistance towards the reform.
From an organizational theory perspective, the horizontal specialization of
government ministries and agencies would be expected to counteract horizontally
integrated reform processes. Civil servants and government ministers perceive of
themselves first and foremost as sectoral representatives, and only secondarily as
representatives of the government and/or the civil service as a whole. The general
impression is that Norman and his secretariat did not coordinate horizontally with
the affected sectoral ministries or with the government as a whole. This means
that the government Minister largely designed the process and that it was shielded
from public discussion as well as from potential opposition within the civil
service itself and from other government ministries. The process that led to the
decision phase was hierarchic, rigidly controlled and marked by a large degree of
decision-making rationality.
Victor Norman seems to have lost out in one particular respect: The
original plan, which was to erect regional clusters of public agencies outside of
Oslo, fell through as the government looked into the issue.

I dont know if it was Normans lack of experience as a politician that

prevented him from understanding how this cluster-idea of his would meet
resistance in the Parliament. In order to minimize this resistance, he was in
many ways forced to go for a solution whereby agencies would be spread
around the country; doling something out to everybody, so as to minimize
resistance. In this way, the professional rationale behind the reform
disappeared, reducing it to mere politics (interview).

The political negotiations and compromise during the final phase of the
government review process thus led to a more fragmented outcome than was the
original aim of the government Minister.

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World Political Science Review, Vol. 6 [2010], Iss. 1, Art. 7

Local decision-making process: From the Parliament to the Senate

What we describe as local decision-making processes with respect to the

relocation of government agencies in general and the PT in particular involves
one particular group of actors: the affected municipalities. Even if the
municipalities did not play any central part in the decision-making process, they
were still mobilized for the purpose of affecting the decisions made by
government and the Parliament. The State Secretary of the AAD and head of the
project group confirms that this was a strategic move made by central actors,
partly to mobilize local groups to support relocation and partly to remove groups
that were expected to oppose the reform (interview). The affected municipalities
spent considerable resources on lobbying. They focused their attention on the
government and on singular MPs, especially during the phase following the
government announcement of the relocation resolution. The Parliament standing
committee that was formally in charge of examining the government proposal
experienced heavy pressure from several special interest groups (Furumo
2006:67). The government proposal mobilized expectations and lobbying on the
part of the municipalities that felt affected by the governments proposal (Meyer
and Stensaker 2009).
With respect to the relocation of the PT, the local actors in the Agder
region describe the decision-making process as rigidly controlled by the
government Minister, and that this was primarily the doings of Victor Norman
(interview). But with respect to the actual relocation of the agencies the
municipalities perceived a more open process if not an open-ended one. The
extent of local actors and resources that were mobilized by the different
municipalities was considerable. All the involved municipalities sent delegations
to the government as well as to the Ministry for Transport and Communication
which was formally in charge of making the final decision on the relocation issue
(interview). Thus, the affected municipalities were formally invited to
participating in the review work.
The local processes surrounding the relocation of the PT were deeply
affected by municipal involvement induced by the local political leadership. This
illustrates how the agency relocation created political involvement in the regional
districts, as well as how the districts were pushing for supervision, jobs and
expertise to be relocated to the regions. Thus, the number of actors involved in the
process was high, changing, and unstable, weakening the hierarchical control as
the process went on.

The decision itself was strongly controlled by the government Minister

himself. With respect to relocation, Norman kept the cards close to his
chest. We were never told why instead of choosing a specific city he 18
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

introduced the notion of the Agder city. Granted, Lillesand was a

candidate, but the choice of Lillesand still came as a major surprise to us,
as we never really thought that it was a very relevant one. I think that this
was a political compromise so as to create more support for the Agder
city, and thus bring both Grimstad and Kristiansand back in the fold

Early on, before the government had decided on the geographic location of the
agencies, it was also speculated that The Norwegian Maritime Agency
(Sjfartstilsynet) would be placed somewhere in Agder. The municipality of
Arendal was part of the early phase of this discussion. But the present mayor
learnt early on from the AAD that the Maritime Agency would not be relocated to
any of the southern municipalities. The Arendal delegation thus chose to
withdraw from the relocation struggle and instead put their support behind the
neighboring town of Grimstad (interview). It was only when VN announced that
the PT would be moved to the Agder City that the Agder municipalities started
mobilizing in earnest. In the Agency White Paper, the PT was the only agency
that had not been placed in a specific geographic location. This most likely
contributed to making the struggle between the municipalities about this particular
agency fiercer (interview). Also the political management of the Ministry of
Transport and Communications at the time confirms that the relocation battle in
Agder was unique:

When the Agder City notion was introduced as one of the potential
locations for the PT, I was concerned. I imagined how, locally, this would
create a very peculiar form of game between the municipalities. And there
was certainly far more noise from the Agder region stemming both from
this particular struggle, which played itself out locally, and from an in
general greater degree of involvement throughout this region than was
the case for the others. With the other agencies the places of relocation
tended to be more obvious they were givens, unlike what was the case in
the Agder region (interview).

Later in the process, the municipality of Lillesand also threw itself into the battle
over the PT. Archival material of the media coverage of this issue reveals that
Lillesand received very moderate public attention. This was an expression of a
deliberate strategy on the part of the municipality to avoid media attention. But it
was most likely also an indication that the involvement of the municipality was
not taken very seriously by the media.

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World Political Science Review, Vol. 6 [2010], Iss. 1, Art. 7

This ended up as a classic relocation battle. Tempers flared, but

discussions were mostly civilized. Grimstad and Kristiansand
acknowledged each other as competitors. But Lillesand was never taken
very seriously, and so we could lurk in the shadows (interview).

The decision made by the Ministry of Transport and Communications to move the
PT to Lillesand took most of the involved local actors by surprise. With respect to
Lillesand, location was the main argument employed towards the political
management of the ministry. The political management of the Ministry of
Transport and Communications to some extent confirms the importance of local
lobbying with respect to the final PT localization decision. As there were no AAD
guidelines as to the exact Agder region location, this turned into an open process,
giving the municipalities' ample opportunity to influence the final decision

For the PT, there were no obvious expert clusters in the Agder region to
which the agency could be sensibly linked. Thus, there were mainly two
arguments that drove the location decision; well-being and happiness for
the employees and, maybe most importantly, real estate opportunities.
Lillesand wasted no time in providing us potential locations and building
sites (interview).

In addition to this, Lillesands municipal delegation had in its midst one of the
lobbyists who had coined the concept the Agder City. This lobbyist dexterously
sold the logic behind this concept to the political management of the Ministry of
Transport and Communications (interview).

I imagine Victor Norman had fun watching the southerners relate to this
functional notion, which they had so far kept at arms length. When doing
planning work, one deals in administrative quantities. When Norman
threw the Agder City into the fray, he wreaked havoc, as they now had
to deal with a functional quantity to which no institution belonged. And he
forced them onto an arena where they were uncomfortable (interview).

Also in the early 1990s, Victor Norman had served as a provider of

premises and assessments to the Agder municipalities. Then chief municipal
executive of Kristiansand drew on Norman for reflections and review work
(interview). Norman had, as early as 1994, worked on a development project, the
so-called Common Agder Goals, together with the lobbyist who was behind
the Agder City concept. The development project had sought to hammer out a
platform for a stronger regional perspective on Agder, with the appropriation of 20
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Trondal and Kiland: Geographic Relocation of the Norwegian Central Administration

government jobs to the region as a central aim (interview). Thus, Normans

regional background served as the backdrop against which the Agder City
notion in the Agency White Paper should be understood.
The decision-making process surrounding the relocation issue was also
characterized by a network of local and central actors with a common perception
of the challenges faced by the Agder region (Sahlin-Andersson 2002; Van
Warden 1992). Suggestively, this network has colloquially been branded the
Senate. Norman had particularly intimate knowledge of the Agder region, and it
is hardly a coincidence that the notion the Agder City made its way into the
Agency White Paper.
During their lobbying effort, the affected municipalities directed their
attention towards party factions and regional representatives in Parliament.
Several regions and municipalities began their lobbying early much earlier than
the Agder municipalities did. This had to do with the fact that for all the agencies,
except the PT, an exact geographic location had already been chosen (White
Paper no 17 (2002-03)).
A core aspect to the local Agder processes was that the mobilizing of the
municipal and regional lobbying towards government, Ministry and Parliament
came as a consequence of the way in which the process was organized around the
government minister and secretary committee of the AAD. The affected
municipalities were invited into both the review and the decision phase, as they
were perceived of as potential supporters of the government proposal. The AAD
political leadership was convinced that this would create local expectations,
which would then increase in strength as the process matured, and thus serve as
extra external pressure on the government and Parliament. Thus, even the local
process appears as part of a larger organizational strategy, controlled politically
by the AAD political leadership.


This study illustrates how the political leadership of governments balanced

decision-making rationality and action rationality through the deliberate
organization of a decision-making process. The dilemma between the concern for
decision-making rationality and action rationality is accentuated with respect to
political decision-making processes where there is major potential for conflict and
power struggle and particularly in a situation where the Parliamentary situation
contributes to further uncertainty about the decisional outcome.
For the government, the relocation issue was primarily one of organizing
the decision-making processes so that it maximized the likelihood of success in
Parliament. For this, they chose a rigidly organized process, characterized by the
selective inclusion and exclusion of actors, and a rigid sequencing of the decision-

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World Political Science Review, Vol. 6 [2010], Iss. 1, Art. 7

making process. Experiences derived from failed 1970s and -80s attempts at
agency relocation contributed to a rigid organizing of the decision-making process
in the government, and within the AAD in particular. Potential
opponents/adversaries were systematically excluded from the process. For the
political leadership, uncertainty was reduced as a consequence of the scarcity of
competing actors and arguments. Opposing voices and contradictory expectations
were systematically excluded from the decision-making process for as long as
What also emerges is an image of overlapping decision-making processes,
centrally and locally. During the review phase, affected municipalities were
formally invited into the process by the government. However, this participation
seems to have had limited impact. Even after the decision to relocate the
government agencies had been made by the government, local mobilization
occurred. During the final phase of this political decision-making process, the
element of hierarchical control was supplemented by local lobbying and
networks. Exactly because the decision about the exact location of the PT
somewhere in the Agder region was left open, as opposed to relocation decisions
concerning each and every one of the other agencies, local lobbying and
networking arose/became prominent. A result of this was that the pattern of actors
became more complex and more changeable, and that the element of negotiation
and compromise became more prominent. The local processes were characterized
by classic geographic localization struggles between the affected municipalities,
where the conflict lines often mirrored historical regional conflict lines.
The study illustrates the effect of the formal organization of political
decision-making processes. Several studies have shown that the leverage of the
government in general is pretty limited, compared to that of the central
administration and international organizations in particular the EU Commission
(Trondal 2009). With respect to administrative politics the governments leverage
is often constrained by international fads (Jacobsen and Roness 2008). The case
of geographic relocation of agencies case reveals that political control can be
ensured during concrete decision-making processes through the formal design of
such processes. This example can be perceived of as a critical case because
earlier attempts at relocating government agencies for all practical purposes
stranded, and because the relocation of institutions often mobilizes tremendous
attention and resistance from affected parties. This organizational explanation is
by no means exhaustive, but it seems crucial with respect to explaining the
outcome of the 2003 government agency relocation issue. 22
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