Associate Professor of Political Science at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
An expert on leadership, organizational operations, presidential routine, and institutional design, Professor Sullivan teaches courses on leadership, political tradecraft (e.g., bargaining, agenda formation, and political persuasion), organizational routine (e.g., delegation, scheduling, span and depth of control, rules and procedures), Congress, and the Presidency. In 1997, he cofounded and now acts as Executive Director of the White House Transition Project, a multi-institutional consortium to assist in peaceful political transitions in the United States and other democracies. In 2010, he joined the National Commission on Reform of the Federal Appointments Process as Commissioner and Senior Research Scholar.

What's New

BOG Medallion 2015

UNC System Board of Governors' Award for Teaching Excellence for 2015. Following selection by the UNC Student Congress as 2014 Teacher of the Year (see below), the UNC System Board of Governors has awarded Professor Sullivan their Award for Teaching Excellence for 2015. Commenting on the award, UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said, “Terry Sullivan’s commitment to excellence in the classroom exemplifies Carolina’s leadership in research, scholarship and creativity. Students and faculty consider him a great story teller, provocateur, and a breath of fresh air. I agree and congratulate him on bringing this recognition to Chapel Hill.”

The faculty committee told the Board of Governors that one student's nomination summarized the committee's findings: "Professor Sullivan creates a dynamic, intellectual environment, which allows his students to think critically about politics."

UNC Student Congress Undergraduate Teacher for 2014. On behalf of the UNC Chapel Hill Student Congress, the University Chancellor awarded Professor Sullivan the 2014 Undergraduate Teacher of the Year. One student nomination cited Professor Sullivan for "creating an environment that challenges students to think critically about situations. Additionally, Professor Sullivan engages with his students outside of the classroom by providing insight and guidance to help further students' career paths. Professor Sullivan also takes great interest in his students' lives and interacts with his students with the greatest respect."

Advisor to the Office of Management and Budget. Provided expert advice and data to the President's Working Group on Inquiry.
Responding to the requirements of S.679, signed into law on August 10, 2012, the President established a working group to provide information to the Senate on how to reduce unnecessary duplication in the forms nominees must file during the vetting and confirmation processes. The working group also will provide a plan for developing a federal "smartform" for nominees reducing further the burdens on nominees (my estimates around 40% reductions) and speeding up the vetting process (estimate of 1 week shorter). The working group relies extensively on Professor Sullivan's research and practical experience in these areas.

President Juan Santos (second from left) stands for photographs with seminar participants discussing the role of the Colombian presidency. Principal participants included Professor Sullivan, who outlined lessons on managing the president's time and the balance between what Professor Sullivan called "fidelity to duty" and "discretion" over the country's agenda.

Advisor to the Office of the President of Colombia. Consulted with the President and his staff on executive structure and presidential operations.

Attended and participated with President Santos, Colombian Ministers, and presidential staff in a seminar at the University of the Andes on executive branch restructuring. "Americans forget that in most places in the world, regime change happens with body bags and not speeches," Professor Sullivan notes. "Well, not in America and not in Colombia. Peaceful transition is the first step in advancing a democratic, humane, and responsible political agenda. We are glad to assist in whatever way we can with Colombia's innovative leaders in pursuing their vision of an effective executive.

National Fellow, the Hoover Institution. Completed year as Campbell National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. "This fellowship turned out to afford me the opportunity to initiate a restructuring of bargaining theory, initiate work on a national commission to reform the presidential appointments process, and further my work on organizational routine in the executive and legislative institutions. And I got to enjoy the extraordinary scholarly community at Stanford. I cannot be any more grateful."

Sites of Interest

Professional Interests

Academic Vita


Professor Sullivan's professional interests focus on formal theories, presidential leadership, public and private leadership, executive (and specifically White House) operations, and legislative procedures (especially the rules of the US House of Representatives). His current projects include continuing work on White House operations (his latest book on the subject: Nerve Center: Lessons on Governing from the White House Chiefs of Staff) and a book on modeling presidential leadership entitled Making A Difference - LBJ and the Political Tradecraft of Presidential Leadership. This book emphasizes a new theory of the presidency based on extensive research on what presidents do with their time, how they interact with other political leaders, and how their ambitions define their opportunities and activities.

Professor Sullivan continues to work with The White House Transition Project,which provides scholarly information and assistance to secure a successful presidential transition. It's latest published research, The White House World, compiles an abridged set of its briefing papers on White House operations used by the George W. Bush White House and the Barrack H. Obama transition and White House.

Contact Center

mail-mail Political Science
CB#3265, Hamilton 324
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3265
ear-mail 919.962.0413
pict mail 919.962.0432

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You can find versions of current research papers, published research, and other useful information here (all in PDF format):
Professional Materials

Current Research Papers
  • Modeling Initiative in the Singular Presidency -- Regime, Routine, and Vision. This paper develops a theory of presidential initiative. It emphasizes three elements: constitutional regime, organizational routine, and authority. In this model, the president and a single subordinate make choices about how much effort to invest in pursuing a policy outcome. The president has control over whether the Executive engages and who takes the leadership. The theory comports with the data from a large simulation used to assess the consistency of six operational results: a limited presidential agenda, a lack of interest in exclusive powers, the centrality of delegation, and a persistent subordinate disappointment with delegation, generating an organizational crisis. It estimates the potential for presidential unity of purpose as a defense against congressional power. It also proposes an operational solution to a form of agency costs and suggests a routine designed to bolster organizational continuity, a routine that clarifies the often cited notion of a presidential "vision thing."
  • Expertise, Control, and Appreciating Ignorance in the Singular Presidency.This paper assesses how organizational choices affect presidential governance. It articulates a new, Structured Control Theory (SCT) of the singular presidency, its derivative authorities, and its unity of purpose. The theory emphasizes the importance of asymmetries between subordinates and their presidents and concludes that presidential control of reputations counterbalances the expertise effects found in the standard literature. SCT concludes subordinates become buffers (rather than distractions) for their presidents, shifting engagement to core responsibilities. It concludes a strictly hierarchical staff organization broadens (rather than restricts) access to the president's councils. The paper also argues for and employs a compositional methodology along with data recording the activities, during the 100 days, of Presidents Eisenhower through George H.W. Bush. Evidence supports the Structured Control Theory's expectations while contradicting the standard literature. Results highlight two new organizational dynamics: the role of pivoting and the personal costs of governing.
  • Fame, Fidelity, and the Effects of Learning in the Singular Presidency. This paper considers whether presidents control their routine or react to institutional burdens, a dynamic embedded in the constitutional choice of a singular presidency. It develops a theory of ambition (fame), constrained by duty (fidelity), producing seven empirical results about presidential engagement. It tests these utilizing logs of presidential daily activity during the first 100 days of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower through George H. W. Bush. The paper concludes that the patterns to their work suggest the influence of fidelity. The paper also tests whether learning can counter fidelity and discovers that in practice presidential learning leads to increased fidelity. These results suggest fidelity represents a "proximate" goal, mirroring in the presidency what reelection does in the Congress. These findings suggest the importance of faster completion of appointments, concentration on pivoting, and more emphasis on strategery.
  • Passing Through the Maelstrom: The Inquiry of Presidential Nominees and Its Reform, 2001-2012. This paper details the inquiry of presidential nominees during their vetting process. It demonstrates how the early Obama administration drastically increased the burdens on nominees, doubling the amount of information they must provide. That increase in inquiry alone contributes to one third of the lengthening of the appointments process identified by others since the G.H.W. Bush administration. The paper also details two significant steps to reduce the process, one by the Senate reducing scrutiny of nominees by 20% and one the White House reducing inquiry of nominees by another 20%. The paper then considers two additional reforms of inquiry, each relying on proposals innovated by the scholarly community and each reducing nominees burdens by between 20% and 34%. The total alterations in inquiry could reverse the lengthening appointments process by nearly 30% over those differences since 1989.
Selected Published Research