The transformative capacity of the Brazilian federal government in building a social welfare bureaucracy in the municipalities

Abstract The article analyzes the transformative capacity of the Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger (MDS) in shaping structural change in Brazilian municipalities. The study is based on the concepts of organizational and institutional learning, on a combination of analytical categories of the institutional and neo-institutional approaches and on traditional means of government control. As for methodology, this study used process tracing, in-depth interviews, and documentary analysis of regulations, decrees, and resolutions that create direct and indirect incentives to induce agreements and cooperation of municipalities with the Ministry. We identified two important causal mechanisms: a) organizational and institutional learning processes; and b) inter-federative cooperation that, combined, generated significant changes in municipal bureaucratic capacity. The findings show the importance of the Union’s transformative capacity in the process of public policy decentralization in Brazil.