Municipal Commitment to Total Quality Management: A Survey of Recent Progress

Article excerpt

In the past two years, there has been considerable interest in Total Quality Management (TQM). At the level of local government, interest is shown by the increasing number of TQM initiatives in such services as garbage collection, street maintenance, welfare services, police protection, emergency services, and other areas (Sensenbrenner, 1991; Galloway, 1992; Walters, 1992; Pfister, 1993; Lusk, Tribus, and Schwinn, 1989; Penzer, 1991; Kline, 1992; International City and Country Management Association, 1993). applications vary from administrative cost savings to strategic reorientations of agency objectives to meet the needs of citizens more effectively. In general, the objectives of these applications are to increase customer orientation, timeliness, and service performance, while reducing costs. Also, many of these applications apply TQM concepts loosely; that is, they do not necessarily follow strict or orthodox TQM concepts.

Notwithstanding considerable interest for TQM in municipal government, informed observers have highlighted many problems with the implementation of TQM. For example, Kravchuk and Leighton (1993), as well as Davis and Hyde (1992), see traditional administrative functions such as budgeting and human resources as control-oriented impediments to TQM. Cohen and Brand (1993) focus on the need for long-term commitment, which is compromised by the ever-changing political contexts of public management, as well as turnover by top management. Swiss (1992) questions the suitability of production-oriented private sector experiences for government. Others have challenged TQM on normative grounds. Linden (1992), believes that by focusing on customers, governments may overlook the legitimate interest of citizens. Frederickson (1994) argues that interest in TQM is misplaced, and that more progress is needed on difficult policy issues. These problems cause many to see TQM as just one more in a series of short-lived management fads (Bleakley, 1993; Zemke, 1993).

Despite these concerns, it is obvious to many practitioners that (at least for now) TQM is very much alive in government (e.g., Rago, 1993). However, we known very little about the extent of TQM implementation in local government, the reasons that cities implement TQM, the areas in which TQM is often used, and so forth. This is because many existing accounts are largely based on anecdotal evidence and have an advocacy orientation. By contrast, we aim to provide in this article a systematic and balanced assessment of TQM in municipal government. Through a national survey of U.S. cities (with populations over 25,000), we provide evidence of (1) the level of municipal implementation, (2) the forces which drive cities to implement TQM, (3) differences in TQM implementation by cities of different, regions, and form of government, (4) strategies used to implement TQM, and (5) a subjective assessment by chief administrative officers of the impact of TQM to date. We also examine the relationships among these aspects such as, for example, between different strategies and the level of implementation.

The Level of Commitment

TQM is an encompassing management approach whose principal tenets are to satisfy (internal and external) customer needs through strategies of employee empowerment and performance measurement (e.g., Milakovich, 1991; Garrity, 1993; Barzelay, 1992; Keehley, 1992). Customer needs are addressed through the multi-faceted concept of quality,' which includes such elements as performance, conformance, accuracy, reliability, and timeliness (Federal Quality Institute, 1991; Rosen, 1993). In many instances, these elements are quantifiable and, hence, subject to evaluation, assessment, and continuous improvement. Employee empowerment is used because it allows employees to address customer problems in a timely and often tailored way (Berman, 1995).

A common problem with the implementation of productivity improvement innovations such as TQM is that many organizations implement them at a token level rather than fully committing themselves to success (Downs and Mohr, 1980; Miller, 1993). …