Pursuing rationality in public management: Managing for results in United States state governments

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Patricia W. Ingraham


Rationality, Public management, Managing for results, State governments, Corrections

Subject Categories

American Politics | Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation | Public Administration


During the 1990s, U.S. state governments pursued the appearance of rationality in public management through the introduction of managing for results (MFR) reforms. Arguments for such reforms claimed that increased performance information and enhanced managerial authority would result in benefits such as allocative and technical efficiency, and enhanced accountability. This research investigates the adoption and implementation of MFR in U.S. state governments, using data from 50-state surveys and content analysis, and three in-depth case studies: Alabama, Virginia, and Vermont.

In the policy adoption phase, elected and central agency officials imposed MFR on line agency officials in a way consistent with their motivations, norms and interests. Central agency officials identify MFR as a best practice and a standard that has become increasingly necessary to professional legitimacy, but interpret MFR in such a way as to not conflict with existing professional norms and standards, as represented in traditional management control systems. Elected officials are reluctant to engage in difficult and contentious reforms of existing management systems, but are willing to create new performance information systems that act as a symbol of their commitment to popular values of how government should be run.

As a result, states only partially implemented MFR reforms, actively creating performance information systems, but neglecting to increase managerial authority through the reform of personnel and financial management controls. Partly due to the continued existence of controls on agency managers and partly because of the failure of statewide actors to use performance information, states have only partially succeeded in achieving many of the predicted benefits of MFR.

MFR does produce some positive benefits, however, the most important of which were unanticipated by arguments for MFR. These benefits have some common characteristics: they occur at the agency level, are led by agency management and align with agency leadership views about the potential of the reform to create organizational value. Given these findings, an alternative prescriptive argument for MFR appears necessary, one that would seek to expand agency authority and benefits, while reducing the time and effort involved in creating statewide systems that provide few apparent instrumental benefits.


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