This article offers a history of the formalization of decision-making at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as an entry into the problem of the nature of bureaucratic rationality. The EPA, like many technical bureaucracies in charge of the administration of uncertain issues through science, resembles the Weberian model of a formal-instrumental rational organization. The use of scientific expertise, in this case under the form of the quantitative assessment of risk, makes it approximate this model even more. The paper shows instead that no strict formal-instrumental rationality emerges from the historical formalization of risk-based decision-making at the EPA, mainly because the scientific consideration of risks is imbued with controversial deliberations about the ends of environmental action. A technical bureaucracy such as the EPA is rationalized in so far as it organizes the treatment of this normative conflict, through data, knowledge and decision-making mechanisms. Substantive environmental conflicts create a tension in the organizing of science-based decision-making, without which one cannot understand the succession of political formalisms in bureaucracies such as the EPA.
- Formal Rationality
- Substantive Rationality
- Risk Assessment
- Environmental Protection Agency