Total Quality Management and the Public Sector

By Rosenhoover, Donald E.; Kuhn, Harold W., Jr. | Public Administration Quarterly, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview
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Total Quality Management and the Public Sector

Rosenhoover, Donald E., Kuhn, Harold W., Jr., Public Administration Quarterly


This article provides the authors' preliminary conclusions concerning the maturity of Total Quality Management (TQM)1 in the public sector. They define the public sector as all primary employers of Master of Public Administration (MPA) graduates, including non-profit and quasi-public organizations and agencies as well as governmental units. Their long-term research objective is to determine how TQM should be addressed in Master of Public Administration curricula.

This is the third report on research that began over two years ago but can still be classified as in the pre-experimental stage. The first two reports were presented as papers at the Fifteenth and Sixteenth National Conference on Teaching Public Administration. The first paper described the less than enthusiastic response to TQM instruction at NASPAA-member institutions (Rosenhoover, 1992); the second paper concluded that many public officials want TQM taught in MPA programs (Rosenhoover and Kuhn, 1993).

In addition to updating the conclusions reached in the first two papers, this article explores the authors' theory that differences in acceptance and maturity of TQM in the private and public sectors may account for the apparent lack of interest in TQM in the academic community.

Quality management gained many adherents in corporate America during the 1980s as American industry attempted to reassess itself in the global marketplace. Almost a decade ago, a few governments began experimenting with quality management as a way of providing acceptable services in the face of declining revenue. Since 1990 tight budgets and growing demands by citizens have accelerated the rush of federal, state, and local governments to adopt quality management as a cure for many of their problems.

Despite growing public interest in quality management, many critics claim that quality management techniques practiced in the private sector are inappropriate for use in the public sector (see, for instance, Swiss, 1992). The authors believe that the primary differences between quality management or total quality management (TQM) in its most common form, as practiced in industry and government, are differing levels of maturity and acceptance. To demonstrate this point, they examined three measures of any new technique's acceptance and maturity. First, the literature devoted to the subject; second, awards created to reward successful implementation of the technique; and finally, academic interest in the technique.


TQM is a term that the U.S. Department of Defense first used in reference to a management philosophy which focuses on customer satisfaction through quality improvements. It has been defined as "a customer-oriented philosophy of management that utilizes total employee involvement in the relentless daily search for improvement of quality of products and services through the use of statistical methods, employee teams, and performance methods" (Partain, 1991/92:21). According to its proponents, TQM must be adopted as a package and continued over a long period of time to be truly effective. TQM principles include the following: commitment and support by top management; empowerment of employees at all levels to make decisions; training of employees so they can make informed decisions; and an institutional commitment to continual quality improvements of the product or service being provided.

TQM embodies the concepts used by Japan to become an industrial world leader and that is why it has caught on in this country. It was first applied to quality improvements in industrial products. Unlike the standard practice of inspecting at the end of the production line and rejecting products that failed quality standards, TQM sought, through the use of statistical quality control techniques, to improve the production process.

There are many noted experts on TQM (Joseph Juran, Armand V.

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