Just or Unjust? How Ideological Beliefs Shape Street-Level Bureaucrats’ Perceptions of Administrative Burden

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Existing research finds that increases in administrative burden reduce client access, political efficacy, and equity. However, extant literature has yet to investigate how administrative burden policies are interpreted by street-level bureaucrats (SLB), whose values and beliefs structure uses of discretion and client experiences of programs. In this article, we utilize quantitative and qualitative data to examine SLB policy preferences regarding administrative burden in Oklahoma's Promise—a means-tested college access program. Our findings demonstrate that SLB in our sample interpret administrative burden policies through the lens of political ideology. Conservative SLB express significantly more support for administrative burden policies, arguing that these policies prevent fraud and demonstrate client deservingness. In contrast, predominantly liberal SLB justify opposition to administrative burden by arguing that the requirements undermine social equity. Together, our findings reveal that SLB political ideology shapes interpretations of administrative burden and perceptions of client deservingness in Oklahoma's Promise.