Associate Professor of Political Science at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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 fidelity to duty and discretion over the agenda.
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

Publication of new bargaining approach. The first publication to come from my year at the Hoover Institution. This paper criticizes and then replaces the Baron/Ferejohn model of bargaining with a new approach based on incomplete information. The new approach emphasizes give and take, faulty anticipation, temporal horizons, and the inherent capacity of politicians to assess the intentions of their colleagues. The paper illustrates the application of the bargaining equilibrium in understanding the impact of presidential tenure restrictions on bluffing and the congressional use of "reputational strategies" versus "policy responses" in bargaining. The theory also makes sense of the Constitutional Amendments numbers 20 and 22 and illustrates the impact of congressional seniority on bargaining with the president. Click here for a copy of "Congressional Bargaining in Presidential Time Give and Take, Anticipation, and the Constitutional Rationalization of Dead Ducks," The Journal Of Politics.

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.

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."

Letter of Thanks from President George W. Bush. For his efforts in the 2000-01 transition and then again in the 2008-09 transition, Professor Sullivan recently received a letter of thanks from President George W. Bush. The letter read in part, "Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise. An orderly transition is critical to the smooth functioning of our Federal Government, and I am grateful for your contributions."

Transition Study in Public Administration Review. The first ever study detailing the complex of questions that presidential nominees must answer, how much overlap and redundancy they face, and how intrusive these question become will appear in an upcoming issue of Public Administration Review, the scholarly community's most widely read journal on matters of administration science. The study, entitled "Reducing the Adversarial Burden on Nominees: Feasible Strategies for Fixing the Presidential Appointments Process," uses the White House Transition Project's Appointments Inquiry database to assess a number of reform strategies and their impact on nominees. It also proposes a strategy designed to reduce the burdens on nominees by 31% without reducing the information obtained from them for vetting.

Sites of Interest

Professional Interests

Academic Vita

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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

hard-mail Political Science
CB#3265, Hamilton 324
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3265
ear-mail 919.962.0413
image-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
  • A Theory of Regime, Routine, and Initiative in the American Presidency. A realistic theory of presidential delegation. It emphasizes three theoretical elements: constitutional regime, executive routine, and individual commitment. 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 initiative. The theory comports with the data from a large simulation used to test six operational expectations. It estimates the potential for executive unity of purpose as a defense against legislative power. It also proposes an operational solution to organizational continuity and suggests a routine designed to bolster it, a routine that clarifies the often cited notion of the presidential "vision thing."
  • Rationalized Routine and Dynmics in the Singular, American 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 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. Tests support the Structured Control Theory's expectations while contradicting the standard literature's. These results highlight two new organizational dynamics: the role of pivoting and the personal costs of governing.
  • Fame, Fidelity, and Learning in the American Presidency: Theory & Evidence of Routine from the First 100 Days of 1953 to 1989. This paper considers whether, in their day to day routines, presidents control their routine or react to institutional burdens. It develops a theory of fame, constrained by fidelity to produce seven empirical expectations about presidential engagement. It tests these utilizing logs of presidential 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 to duty. The paper also tests whether learning can counter fidelity and discovers that in practice presidential learning leads to more fidelity. These results suggest that fidelity represents a "proximate" presidential goal, mirroring in the presidency what reelection does in congressional studies. These findings suggest two modifications in presidential routine.
  • 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