Role Perceptions and Attitudes towards Discretion at a Decentralized Regulatory Frontline

2017, Regulation & Governance

Full title: “Role Perceptions and Attitudes towards Discretion at a Decentralized Regulatory Frontline: The Case of Organic Inspectors”

Link to article


The complexity of decentralized regulatory contexts can threaten program fidelity, particularly if it results in divergence between program goals and the intents of regulatory inspectors. This paper investigates how inspectors negotiate the conflicting demands of a decentralized program by examining how they perceive their regulatory roles – the primary responsibilities that inspectors ascribe to their functions and the entities to which they feel responsible – and how these role orientations are related to inspectors' attitudes toward the use of discretion. The study findings indicate that in the decentralized administration of United States organic food regulations, inspectors experience multiple, and sometimes conflicting, role orientations. The presence of multiple role orientations, however, does not seem to affect how inspectors approach their responsibilities. The combined strengths of quantitative and qualitative data are leveraged to offer explanations for the study findings and identify avenues for future research.