Category Archives: Public Administration

Alone in the back office: the isolation of those who care to support public services

Source: Clare Butler, Anne Marie Doherty, Jocelyn Finniear, Stephen Hill, Work Employment & Society, Vol. 29 no. 4, August 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Prior research suggests that it is through providing direct support to citizens that public servants gain a source of meaning in their work; and affirm their public service identities. This article explores how employees who work in a public service support function and receive little, if any, direct feedback from citizens may maintain their public service identity during their back office work. The study finds, against much previous empirical research, that these back office employees achieve positive identity affirmation through bureaucratic work. The findings also show that they affirm their caring and community focused public service identity by noting their superiority in this regard when compared with colleagues. However, this augmented self-narrative results in many experiencing feelings of isolation. The article discusses how these findings extend the understanding of identity affirmation among back office public servants and may improve our ability to effectively support these workers.

Coping During Public Service Delivery: A Conceptualization and Systematic Review of the Literature

Source: Lars L. G. Tummers, Victor Bekkers, Evelien Vink and Michael Musheno, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Advance Access, January 12, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Frontline workers, such as teachers and social workers, often experience stress when delivering public services to clients, for instance because of high workloads. They adapt by coping, using such practices as breaking or bending rules for clients, or rationing services. Although coping is recognized as an important response to the problems of frontline work, the public administration field lacks a comprehensive view of coping. The first contribution of this article is therefore theoretical: conceptualizing coping during public service delivery and developing a coherent classification of coping. This is done via a systematic review of the literature from 1981 to 2014. The second contribution is empirical: via a systematic review of the literature from 1981–2014 this article provides a framework and analytical account of how coping during public service delivery has been studied since 1980. It highlights the importance of the type of profession (such as being a teacher or a police officer), the amount of workload, and the degree of discretion for understanding how frontline workers cope with stress. It also reveals that frontline workers often draw on the coping family “moving towards clients” revealing a strong tendency to provide meaningful public service to clients, even under stressful conditions. We conclude with an agenda for future studies, examining new theoretical, methodological and empirical opportunities to advance understanding of coping during public service delivery.

Workplace psychosocial factors associated with hypertension in the U.S. workforce: A cross-sectional study based on the 2010 National Health Interview Survey

Source: Harpriya Kaur, Sara E. Luckhaupt, Jia Li, Toni Alterman and Geoffrey M. Calvert, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Volume 57 Issue 9, September 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Objective: To explore associations between self-reported hypertension and workplace psychosocial factors that are common among U.S. workers and to identify industries and occupations (I&Os) that are associated with a high prevalence of hypertension, even after adjustment for common known risk factors. …

Job insecurity and hostile work environment were significantly associated with hypertension. Hypertension prevalence was significantly elevated among those employed in Healthcare Support occupations and Public Administration industries.

Addressing hostile work environments and the stress associated with job insecurity may improve workers’ health. Other occupational factors that contribute to the variation in prevalence of hypertension by I&O should be sought. …

The Relationship Between Short-Term Political Appointments and Bureaucratic Performance: The Case of Recess Appointments in the United States

Source: Susan M. Miller, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, First published online: August 11, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Within the bureaucratic performance literature, a growing body of work focuses on the relationship between the character of an administrator’s selection—career administrators versus different types of appointees—and bureaucratic performance, finding that programs managed by political appointees are associated with lower performance scores than programs managed by career professionals. One aspect of administrators’ selection that has not been considered in connection with bureaucratic performance is whether the appointee was installed via recess appointment. Because their limited and uncertain tenures may cause administrative problems and because the unilateral nature of their selection may lead executives to prioritize other characteristics over competency, I theorize that recess appointees will be associated with lower program performance than non-recess appointees and careerists. Using Program Assessment Rating Tool scores from the George W. Bush administration, I find support for this expectation. This article contributes to our understanding of the ways in which staffing through recess appointments may shape government administration.

A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It

Source: Paul C. Light, Brooking Institution, Strengthening American Democracy, Number 93 of 94, July 2014

From the summary:
In this research paper, Paul C. Light writes that the “first step in preventing future failures is to find a reasonable set of past failures that might yield lessons for repair.” To meet this goal, Light asks four key questions about past federal government failures: (1) where did government fail, (2) why did government fail, (3) who caused the failures, and (4) what can be done to fix the underlying problems?…

….The cascade of failures described in this paper parallels other trends over the past three decades, including the steady aging of the federal government’s infrastructure and workforce; growing dependence on contractors; ever-thickening hierarchy; dwindling funds, staffing, and collateral capacity, such as information technology and accounting systems; increasing frustration with poorly drafted policy; presidential disengagement; and political posturing. These trends help explain much of the cascade, although it remains to be seen what might have sparked the patterns in the first place. It could be that bureaucracies are inherently vulnerable to failure regardless of funding, hierarchy, dependencies, and public angst toward big organizations of any kind. It could also be that the cascade reflects errors of omission and commission by Congress and the president, and the flood of what Alexander Hamilton called the “deadly adversaries” of government: cabal, intrigue, and corruption. ….

Incentive Pay Practices Survey: Non-Profit/Government Organizations

Source: WorldatWork (Total Rewards Association) and Vivient Consulting, February 2014

…More than 175 participants from non-profit and government organizations responded to the survey, as did 190 participants from private, for-profit companies. Because of the large response from the sectors surveyed, 2 separate reports have been published: this report, “Incentive Pay Practices Survey: Non-Profit/Government Organizations,” and “Incentive Pay Practices Survey: Privately Held Companies.” …

… U.S. non-profit and government organizations continue to use short-term cash incentives to motivate and reward employees, and to compete for talent, according to the 2013 Vivient Consulting and WorldatWork survey, “Incentive Pay Practices Survey: Privately Held Companies. … In 2013, 78% of non-profit and government organizations reported using short-term incentives (STIs), while 16% reported using long-term incentives (LTIs)…. Of the non-profit and government respondents, 76% are non-profits, such as charitable and education organizations. The remaining 24% of respondents are public-sector organizations, such as state, local and federal government entities. The most common industries represented in the survey are health care and social assistance (46%); educational services (14%); and public administration (10%)….

Forget Technology; Denver Turns to Its Employees to Fix Problems

Source: J.B. Wogan, Governing, February 2014

Instead of looking for better results through data analytics, new technology or paid consultants, Denver looks to its own employees for simple, straightforward reforms. …

…In Denver city government, this is what an innovator looks like: White-haired, dressed in light blue scrubs and wearing a pair of sneakers, Tara Morse works as an animal care supervisor. Each day, she conducts about a dozen examinations of new dogs and cats that arrive at the Denver Animal Shelter. Not long ago, Morse came up with a simple idea to save her agency about $75,000 a year.

When pets get reclaimed by their owners, they’re usually collected in fewer than 15 days. After that, the owners rarely turn up. Yet city and county policy dictated that the agency hold animals for 30 days before trying to place them in another home. The longer they stayed, the more their health deteriorated. And as their health worsened, their chances of being adopted dropped as well. Morse recommended a new policy of 15 days. The result was just what Morse had predicted: cheaper, more effective care.

Morse was putting to use skills she learned at the Denver Peak Academy, a city-run training program, housed within the mayor’s budget office, that teaches municipal employees analytical methods to improve their daily work. Graduates apply those lessons toward improvements within their home agencies….

Cities throughout the country are creating offices tasked with spurring innovation. But the Peak Academy represents a different strain. Instead of looking for better results through data analytics, new technology or paid consultants, Denver is turning to its ground-level employees for simple, straightforward reforms. More than a suggestion box, the academy provides a structured ongoing process for soliciting new ideas and making sure they happen….

Negotiation. Lost art or core competency?

Source: NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement, 2013

Negotiation is a valuable skill for procurement professionals. Negotiation is a standard method of contracting in federal, state and local government procurement. Although the internet facilitates research and fact finding that supports the formulation of sound negotiating positions, the negotiation process itself is a proven method for arriving at best value sourcing outcomes.

Procurement professionals need to know how to prepare and plan for negotiation in order to achieve win-win solutions. Skilled negotiation can improve outcomes for the government. Improved pricing is just one potential benefit. Negotiation can improve the overall combination of quality, service and other elements required for successfully meeting the organization’s requirements.