Abstract This study examines the purported relationship between administrative reform and bureaucratic performance. From an international perspective, it asks if there are any types of administrative reform being implemented by democratic governments that improve bureaucratic performance. To answer this question, data on reform experiences in twenty-five Western democracies are analyzed. The results suggest that some types of administrative reform seem to improve bureaucratic performance, some seem to undercut it, and some seem to have very little effect. As might be expected, contextual factors appear to affect bureaucratic performance more than the reforms studied here. These contextual factors include national security threats, ethnic/religious tensions, divided government, and economic instability. Thus, this study concludes that although certain types of administrative reform are potentially powerful policy instruments, the relationship between administrative reform and bureaucratic performance is weaker and more complex than national reform agendas suggest.