Inside the Offsite: Creating organizational autonomy in the department of the Army

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Linda Fowler


Political science, Public administration


The government's current budget problems and political turmoil demand that organizational leaders take a new look at the relationship between organizations and elected lawmakers. How can public organizations continue to perform their mission with decreasing budget share and simultaneously limit external intrusion and oversight? This study proposes a theory of autonomy based upon the managed exchange of resources between internal organizational and external political environments. Proper management of the interdependence of resources results in organizational stability and credibility with lawmakers.

The case study of the Offsite Group describes how the Army grappled with the negative sum budget environment and created autonomy through the use of vision and transformational leadership. In 1991, the Army was facing declining funds and missions due to the end of the Cold War. Compounding these problems was internal organizational conflict combined with political dissatisfaction. The 'Offsite Group' was a forum assembled to discuss the rivalry and propose possible solutions. More than just an informal discussion group, it also included the political lobby groups that provided external political support for the different Army components. Using the vision of the Chief of Staff, the Offsite Group overcame historical barriers between the components and created autonomy.

This study offers the first look into this group and its impact upon the Army. It fills a gap in the literature because of the inclusive nature of its design, encompassing both the organizational and political goals of different actors. The Offsite process also offers important lessons to other public organizations that desire autonomy. The Offsite's unanimous agreement on force levels and the resulting positive legislative language reflect its success. This success created a level of stability the Army could use in other interactions with Congress. Using the theory of autonomy in this study, and the Offsite as a model for success, any organization might manage the interdependence of internal and external resources to create stability in a turbulent political and fiscal environment.


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