Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Explaining the Use of Recommended Practices and Guidelines: The Case of Public Budgeting

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Explaining the Use of Recommended Practices and Guidelines: The Case of Public Budgeting

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Even in its earliest days as a distinct academic field, public administration was defined by efforts to increase organizational effectiveness and efficiency. This desire led scholars of the time to develop specific guidelines that would, if implemented properly, "help organizations achieve optimum performance in working toward their goals" (Meier & Bohte, 2000, p. 116). For example, according to Luther Gulick (1937) and his likeminded contemporaries, properly adhering to certain principles of organizational structure would lead to greater administrative efficiency. Nearly 80 years after these initial conversations, the search for improved performance continues. Instead of principles, however, best practices, guidelines, prescriptions, and standards have proliferated and now define nearly every aspect of public administration. In most cases, these guidelines have been developed or endorsed by prominent practitioners, professional organizations, and academics.

Despite their expansion, the potential benefits of these guidelines can only be obtained if they actually are adopted and implemented by governments. Stated another way, achieving more efficient and effective organizational performance is predicated on the degree to which such recommendations are actually used in practice. When public administration scholars have examined use across various sets of guidelines, the results have been mixed. While many recommendations are utilized to some degree, use was short of expectations among certain practices (Justice, Melitski, & Smith, 2006), variations were present across others (Duncombe & Searcy, 2007) and, in some cases, initial support did not lead to substantive changes (Lapsley, 2012). These conclusions have led to a question that is equally interesting and relevant to the practice of public administration. Given the level of conceptual popularity and organizational support for most sets of best practices and similar recommendations, what accounts for the variation in use across governments?

Precedent certainly exists for research questions that address both recommended practices and their use among governments. Examinations of performance measurement (de Lancer Julnes & Holzer, 2001; Kelly & Rivenbark, 2002; Lindblad, 2006), for example, have been particularly fruitful. Similar attention has been given to human resource management (Coggburn & Hayes, 2004), e-government (Justice, Melitski, & Smith, 2006) information management (Rocheleau, 2000), and procurement (Duncombe & Searcy, 2007). However, the focus on public budgeting, a particularly important aspect of public administration, has been much more limited. The significance of this oversight is threefold. First, the recent economic retrenchment has placed a greater focus on the budgeting and financial management practices of governments as they have attempted to cope with lower revenues and increased expenditures. Second, states and local governments have the ability to reference an expansive set of recommended practices that was developed by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA)--one of the field's primary professional organizations. Third, a recent survey of public budgeting and finance officials conducted by the author clearly illustrates local governments vary with regard to their use of recommended practices. While many of the current practices utilized by local governments correspond to the GFOA recommendations, notable variations are present.

The purpose of this paper is to determine why the practices of certain local governments correspond to those developed and promoted by the GFOA while the practices of others do not. The following sections review existing literature related to management and budgeting practices and, in particular, discuss the specific set of recommendations under consideration here. Subsequent sections address the research method, descriptive results, potential causal explanations, and necessary scaling procedures. …

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