Public agency performance and structure: assessing the effects of the organizational environment



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Texas Tech University


This study examined the effects of the organizational environment upon the performance and structural characteristics of public agencies, while also assessing the effects of agency characteristics upon performance. Relevant literature indicated that models of the public sector agency environment lack adequate theoretical foundation and empirical analysis. Private sector studies suggest that complexity, resource capacity, and turbulence are present in the environment. However, no study has modeled these dimensions simultaneously in the public sector. This study used factor analysis of community-level variables and found that all three dimensions, plus the dimension of violent crime, are characteristics salient to the public sector.

The performance of municipal police departments in Texas was examined in light of these environmental dimensions. Departments were surveyed to obtain organizational data; 78 departments responded. Agency performance was operationalized as the average clearance rate of Part One Index offenses for 1990-1994. The rate was also broken down for violent and property offenses. Regression analysis revealed a consistently negative significant effect upon performance for complexity. No statistically significant effects were observed for turbulence, resource capacity, or the violent crime factor.

Factor analysis of organizational data extracted four dimensions: size, complexity, occupational differentiation, and officer capacity. The environmental factors were then used in regression analysis for each of these organizational factors. All four factors had significant effects upon organizational characteristics. Most salient was the finding that violent crime has a strong positive influence upon organizational size, complexity, and officer capacity.

The organizational factors were also used to explain performance. The officer capacity factor had a significant (though modest) effect upon clearance rates. All other organizational variables had no significant effects. A model with both environmental and organizational factors demonstrated that only environmental complexity and officer capacity had statistically significant effects. However, the negative effects of complexity were greater than the positive effects of officer capacity. Overall, this study demonstrated that public sector performance is constrained by external conditions, which exhibit profound negative influences. Organizational characteristics do not generally provide significant positive effects, suggesting that performance improvements are quite marginal and subject to limitations beyond organizational control.