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Nathan, Richard P.

Last Updated: 2022

Richard P. Nathan (November 24, 1935 – September 12, 2021) was Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the State University of New York, Albany, and Director of SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government from 1989 to 2004, co-director from 2005 to 2009, and Senior Fellow from 2009 to 2021. From 1979 to 1989, he was Professor of Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and director of the school’s Urban and Regional Research Center. Before entering academic life, he served in several federal government positions, including associate director for program research for the National Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission 1967-1968) and chair of the Domestic Council Committee on Welfare Reform Planning (1969-1970). Under President Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974), he served as assistant director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (1969-1972) and deputy undersecretary for welfare reform of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (1972). He later served on the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (1994-1996) and chaired the Panel on Research and Development Priorities for the U.S. Census Bureau’s State and Local Government Statistics Program in the lead up to the 2010 census. In 1972, he was appointed Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Nathan is perhaps best known for coining the term “administrative presidency,” which he first applied to the Nixon administration. The concept highlights the efforts of presidents to achieve policy objectives through administrative means such as executive orders, executive memoranda and signing statements rather than congressional action. As President Barack Obama declared in 2014, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone . . . we are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we are providing Americans the kind of help that they need.” The concept also encompasses executive efforts to unilaterally reorganize agencies, centralize decision making, and appoint politically supportive agents atop departments and agencies.

Nathan was also well known for evaluating impacts of major intergovernmental grants on state and local governments. He developed and directed field-network evaluation studies that produced qualitative findings that complemented orthodox economics studies. The network was composed of political scientists and economists, selected for their familiarity with finances, government structures, and decision processes of sample jurisdictions across the country. The field associates monitored implementation over time of such federal programs as General Revenue Sharing (1972-1986), Community Development Block Grants (1974-present), the Reagan Domestic Program (1981-1988), the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (1996-present), and Affordable Care Act (2010-present). They used uniform research questions developed by central managers at the Brookings Institution, Princeton University, and Rockefeller Institute, and refined them to reflect learning from the field. Field associates described and analyzed policy choices such as substitutions of federal for state or local funds, tax cuts, and/or new programs. Nathan’s extensive writings about federalism Nathan drew heavily on these findings. His timely, longitudinal, flexible field-network evaluation methodology was an important contribution for political analysis in a diverse federal system.

As his career was coming to a close, he advocated liberal progressive support for federalism and states’ rights.


Richard P. Nathan, The Plot That Failed: Nixon and the Administrative Presidency (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1975); Richard P. Nathan, Allen D. Manvel, Susannah E. Calkins and Associates, Monitoring Revenue Sharing (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1975); Richard P. Nathan, Charles F. Adams, Jr. and Associates, Revenue Sharing: The Second Round (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1977); Richard P. Nathan and Jerry A. Webman, eds., Urban Development Action Grant Program (New York: Routledge, 1980); Richard P. Nathan, The Administrative Presidency (New York: Macmillan, 1983); Richard P. Nathan, Fred C. Doolittle and Associates, The Consequences of Cuts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983); Richard P. Nathan, Fred C. Doolittle and Associates, Reagan and the States (Princeton: Princeton University Press); Richard P. Nathan, A New Agenda for Cities (Washington, DC: National League of Cities, 1992); Richard P. Nathan, Turning Promises into Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993); Richard P. Nathan and Thomas L. Gais, Implementing the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996: A First Look (Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute Press, 1999); Gerald Benjamin and Richard P. Nathan, Regionalism and Realism: A Study of Government in the New York Metropolitan Area (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2001); Richard P. Nathan, “Rethinking the Politics of Federalism: The conventional view that conservatives should favor the federal form and liberals should favor national action is wrong,” Governing(March 16, 2010); and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, et al., and Richard P. Nathan, Block Grants for Community Development (Grandview Heights, OH: BiblioGov 2013).