Public Policy-Making in a Time of Cutbacks: The Role of the Street-Level Bureaucrats in Estonia

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Riin Savi


This paper addresses the impact of crisis on individual-level policy actors by studying the role of street-level bureaucrats in public policy-making during cutbacks in Estonia. To do so, the article makes use of two rivalling streams of theorizing, arguing for and against the increased role and importance of bureaucrats during retrenchment. The Estonian case confirms neither of these extremes, but refers to their complementarity by showing that in Estonia centralized cutback decisions were coupled with “decentralized” solutions to crisis at the very service-delivery level. It is demonstrated that the role and tasks of street-level bureaucrats were in flux and different individual-level coping strategies emerged during the retrenchment period in order to secure the delivery of public services in a situation where more had to be done with less. Still, it is concluded that in the end the scarifications of street-level bureaucrats, both at the professional and the personal levels, facilitated achieving the crisis-time policy goals set by the government, and therefore they were the key actors in crisis-time policy-making.

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