Do “street-level” bureaucrats make policy decisions?
In my view, there is no question that “street-level bureaucrats” end up making policy decisions. This is because they are the ones who actually implement policies. The decisions they make end up determining how policy is actually carried out.
Think about policing. Those who are higher up in the police hierarchy set out policies such as, for example, stop and frisk. But what do those policies actually mean? They do not mean anything until the police on the street start to determine who meets the threshold for stopping and frisking. Thus, it is really the police on the street who are deciding what the policy means.
As another example, think about teachers. Let’s say that policy says that there is to be differentiated instruction for those who need it. It will be the teachers who decide which students need this instruction and how much differentiation they need.
In short, it is the street-level bureaucrats who actually put flesh on the bones of the policy directives that they receive from above. Their decisions determine what the true content of the policy will be. In this way, they are clearly making policy decisions.