Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public Sector Downsizing Decision-Making in the 1990s: Movin

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public Sector Downsizing Decision-Making in the 1990s: Movin

Article excerpt


Congress, the Executive Branch, and federal government agency administrators are at a critical juncture. The United States is rapidly approaching a point where it will no longer be able to pay the interest on the national debt without substantial changes in tax structures and/or program funding. To complicate matters, the public has been rather vocal in expressing its opposition to most forms of tax increases. Efforts to improve public sector effectiveness and efficiency and to reduce expenditures to date have been less than fully successful in accomplishing those ends. In light of the current political environment and continued lackluster performance of the national economy, major changes in the structure and operation of the national government ate on the horizon for the public sector. One of these likely changes will require doing "less with less"--i.e., there will be fewer programs under the purview of the federal government and fewer dollars allocated to those programs which remain.

Decision-making methods traditionally employed by public sector agencies are inadequate for dealing with the demands facing Congress, the Executive Board, and public agencies in a period of sustained cutback management. Those methods, which rely greatly on maintaining the status quo, must be improved if the public interest is to be served effectively. Implementation of those changes will be extremely difficult due to behavioral factors such as organizational and co-worker loyalties, survival instincts, and interest group and political influences on decision-makers. History would seem to teach that bureaucrats have numerous ways of derailing well-intentioned effectiveness and efficiency improvement programs even when they enjoy the support of Congress and the Executive Branch. Douglas Yates (1982:158) mentioned this phenomenon relative to the demise of Management by Objectives (MBO) as a mandated effort by all federal agencies. Thomas Hammond and Jack Knott (1980:48) discussed the concerns of George Suver and Ray Brown relative to the existence of numerous ways for bureaucrats to circumvent the planned outcomes of Zero-Base Budgeting. The authors, themselves, have witnessed the utilization of these methods.

This article reviews three major decision-making models: incrementalism, satisficing, and mixed scanning, and identifies their shortcomings in the present government environment. Several projections follow regarding the likely future appearance and environment of the public sector as we move into the 21st century. Three lenses are discussed through which decision-making in the public sector can be viewed and better understood. Consideration of these perspectives during difficult downsizing decision-making exercises is recommended as one way for public officials to obtain greater control over the decision process.

Innovative adaptations and modifications of the mixed scanning model for decision-making to incorporate these three perspectives is proposed as a way to improve the effectiveness of public sector decision-making in the face of the impediments described. The conceptual thrust of the analysis is firmly grounded in the viewpoint expressed by Amitai Etzioni (1989:122) who argued: "Not only is the world growing more complex and uncertain at a faster and faster pace, but the old decision-making models are failing, and we can expect their failure to accelerate as well." Etzioni was referring to rationalism and incrementalism as the "old decision-making models." His recommendation for addressing the inadequacies of the incremental and rational model is "mixed scanning" (Ibid., 124).

Although the mixed scanning paradigm is superior to the incremental and rational models for many public sector settings, the authors believe it too is inadequate for meeting current decision-making demands, at least as currently developed and articulated. That is, additional guidance is required by most agencies for the effective utilization of the model. …

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