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


Few themes in public administration have been more constant than the search for greater effectiveness and efficiency. In fact, nearly every aspect of the field has been defined by various principles, best practices, and recommended guidelines that can, according to their supporters, lead to better organizational performance. While many public organizations adhere to these types of guidelines, others do not. This research attempts to explain such variation by examining recommendations developed and promoted by the Government Finance Officers Association. Using a national survey of local public budget and finance officials, a number of explanations are explored with various quantitative methods. Results indicate elite support, organizational professionalism, and certain municipal characteristics most determine the degree to which the practices of local governments match those associated with the organization.

Keywords: guidelines, practices, recommendations, management, budgeting, GFOA


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. …

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