Total Quality Management: The Organizational Equivalent of Truth in Public Administration Theory and Practice

Article excerpt


As we enter the final decade of the 20th century the only constant seems to be change. Recent political ramifications in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union are the most dramatic reminders of the paradigmatic shifts in world power relationships Other changes which are bound to have tremendous effects on how public administrators conduct the public's business in the 1990s are:

1. Shifts in global economic trends: Japan, Korea, and "The East Asian Tigers;"

2. European economic consolidation in 1992;

3. The U.S. budget deficit: redistribution of vital resources; cutback management; "doing less with less" based on strategic planning;

4. Demographic shifts in the U.S. workforce;

5. Domestic issues such as illicit drug eradication, homeless people, protecting the environment, corrections, and education; and

6. The growing disillusionment of the public with government at all levels.

Public administrators who have long strived to make their organizations efficient and effective are no being challenged to make them even leaner, meaner, and more flexible. In a sense government must become sophisticated enough to meet rapidly changing public needs, contextual realities, and organizational power shifts. Theoretical, academic, and operational questions are being debated by public administration theorists whether the bureaucratic model is capable of meeting these challenges.

The old guard structures and organizational definitions of organizational management harped on stability, productivity, obedience, and control. The new definition of management demands a concern for people (both employees inside the organization and customers and consumers outside), as well as a clear commitment to quality, not merely quantity.

Transformational leadership and organizational theorists undergird this new thrust when they say we have shifted from control as the guiding principle of organizational management to "quality of relationships." As soon as organizations focus on quality, managers need involvement, motivation, loyalty, commitment, and pride from their co-workers. This implies organizational cultures based on trust and caring--and on a leadership blend of generative characteristics. A relevant organizational style blending macro and micro relationships in a total quality framework becomes the requirement for organizations in the multi-gender, multi-national, multi-competitive, and multi-social environments in the years ahead.

Based on these aforementioned observations, this analysis will explore a management phenomenon commonly referred to as Total Quality Management (TQM). TQM has been endorsed By President George Bush and is currently being implemented in several federal agencies. While there are documented "success" stories of organizational improvements attributed to the implementation of the TQM tenets, the question remains as to its possible fit within the federal government and the public sector in general. One of the questions that continually arises, both operationally and academically, is "Where does TQM fit within the established theories of public management and public administration?" Therefore this article will explore this fundamental question and attempt to illustrate further TQM anchors within the broader framework of public administration, practically and theoretically.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is hopeful that TQM will help public administrators through this "change crucible" in the decade of the 1990s. OMB, in conjunction with the Federal Quality Institute (FQI), has issued a policy statement which "mandates" that virtually all parts of the government will be managed by following the precepts, principles, and practices of TQM. The FQI defines TQM as:

A total organizational approach for meeting customer needs and expectations that involves all managers and employees in using quantitative methods to improve continuously the organization's processes, products and services. …