An Exploratory Study of Management Reform Diffusion in the U.S. Federal Government

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Stuart Bretschneider I.


Management reform diffusion, Federal government, Innovation diffusion, Organizational change, Reinventing government, Adoption and implementation, United States

Subject Categories

Public Administration


The historical roots of management innovation in American government extend all the way back to its founding. Periodically, robust eras of reform accelerate institutional evolution, including reforms expected to improve government management processes and systems. Fortunately, the mid- to late-1990s study period presented a unique research opportunity due to the accumulating forces of reaction (i.e. "managerialism") to the rational-legal bureaucratic reforms instituted and elaborated upon throughout the Progressive, New Deal, and Great Society reform eras of the Twentieth Century. This reinventing government impulse strongly resonated with a global public management reform movement and other forces in the institutional environment of the U.S. federal government to stimulate the diffusion of wave-after-wave of new management ideas (i.e. innovations) across the bureaucracy. The multi-level and multi-dimensional triangulation research design methodology employed in this study takes advantage of the abovementioned window-of-opportunity to investigate the following research questions. Can the diffusion-of-innovations theoretical paradigm be extended to explain the management reform diffusion process in government organizations in general and federal agencies in particular? If so, what type of process is it? How does the process unfold? What important causal forces and relationships are observed? What effect do these forces have on the diffusion and relative impact of reform? The cumulative empirical evidence amassed herein demonstrates that the diffusion-of-innovations theoretical paradigm can be successfully adapted and applied to accurately model the process of management reform diffusion in federal agencies. Also, incorporating organizational change impact into diffusion-of-innovations modeling to produce a type of system impact analysis constitutes an important next step in exploring "soft" innovations like management reform in government organizations. In addition, empirical scrutiny of organization level behavioral tendencies during the reform diffusion process yields important insights and process management opportunities of interest to practitioners of public administration. In summary, the triangulation design approach applied herein results in the discovery of patterns of agency behavior not readily observed in previous public administration research concerning bureaucratic reform in general and management reform in particular.


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