Goals, ambiguity, and performance in U.S. federal programs and agencies
Jung, Chan Su
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This study provides meaningful implications and contributions to empirical goal ambiguity theory and the public management literature. First, in order to extend the range of empirical goal ambiguity theory to the program level, this study develops program goal ambiguity as a multi-dimensional construct through conceptualizing three new dimensions of program goal ambiguity: target-specification goal ambiguity, time-specification goal ambiguity, and program evaluation goal ambiguity. The study also develops objective measures of the three new dimensions of program goal ambiguity. In addition, the construct validity of these three new measures is empirically demonstrated through the tests of convergent validity and discriminant validity and their reliability is verified through the test of inter-rater reliability. Next, the present study enhances the understanding of program goal ambiguity by examining its antecedents: management capacity, planning capacity, program type (direct or third-party), assessment year, program size, budget increase, political party initiative (Republican or Democratic), and agency type (regulatory or non-regulatory). The multiple regression analyses demonstrate that different antecedents are differently related to different dimensions of program goal ambiguity by using 767 U.S. federal programs as a large sample. For a better understanding of program performance, its antecedents are also examined by using the five Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) performance scores (program design, planning, management, results, and overall assessment rating scores) that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provides. The antecedents of program performance include target-specification goal ambiguity, time-specification goal ambiguity, program evaluation goal ambiguity, program type, assessment year, program size, budget increase, and political party initiative. The results show that different dimensions of program performance are also differently related to different antecedents by using 767 U.S. federal programs as a large sample. Moreover, this research suggests an explanatory and comprehensive model of organizational performance and an objective measure of organizational performance by calculating the actual program goal achievement rates of 97 U.S. federal agencies and examines antecedents of the new measure. The significant antecedents of the new organizational performance measure include target-specification goal ambiguity, time-specification goal ambiguity, program evaluation goal ambiguity, management capacity, personnel size, number of programs, and institutional location out of 12 independent variables. Most significantly, this study shows that each of the three newly developed dimensions of program goal ambiguity relates consistently, statistically significantly, and negatively to the program performance OMB provides as well as to the newly developed objective measure of organizational performance. Therefore, the present study provides strong support for establishing empirical goal ambiguity theory as well as more refined explanations for more effective goal setting and performance evaluation.
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