Measured Words: Politics and Performance in the Federal Bureaucracy
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Public Administration and Policy. American University
For nearly 50 years, a fundamental issue of governance has been performance management, and government practitioners and public administration scholars have faced the task of developing and utilizing systems to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of government entities. The costs of the federal government, which continue to increase as a result of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from federal stimulus in response to the economic collapse of 2008, and from the growing size of mandatory public spending, all coupled with increasing federal debt as a percentage of GDP, continue to exert pressure on the federal government to find ways to meet these goals. However, the relationship between performance management and government decision making is not well-understood, and examples of failed performance efforts occur as often, or more, than examples of success.This research addresses the nexus between government decision making and performance management, specifically exploring whether, how, and the circumstances under which performance information or other technical factors are likely to successfully impact decision making. There are two literatures, which developed separately, that inform this research. The first examines decision making, and offers three types of models to explain decision making processes. The second examines performance management design, implementation, and outcomes, and shows the promises and pitfalls of the performance mindset. The first broadly focuses on political and technical factors that impact decision making, while the second narrowly focuses on the utilization, or lack thereof, of performance information. This is one of the first studies to integrate the lessons from these two literatures in order to understand the successes and failures of performance efforts.Performance management has the potential to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of government programs, but the results of this study indicate that political and technical conflict play an important role in the relative value of factors in the decision making process, and that the use of performance information is influenced by this conflict. This research examines the complexities of the decision making process through applied historical analysis, and contributes to an improved understanding of the potential value of performance management in multiple government contexts.
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