Does Public Service Motivation Lead to Budget Maximization? Evidence from an Experiment

  • Moynihan D
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Abstract

ABSTRACT One of the most enduring theories in public management is Niskanen's model of the budget-maximizing bureaucrat. While popular, the image of bureaucrats relentlessly advocating for larger budgets has been frequently attacked. A chief criticism is that the assumption of self-interest does not align with budget maximization, since bureaucrats have little direct way to benefit from larger budgets. A more plausible assumption that offers a stronger causal logic for maximization behavior is that bureaucrats are motivated to help others. If they believe that spending on public goods is beneficial to society, public employees may be likely to advocate for larger budgets. Using vignette-experiment methodology, this article finds that individuals with higher levels of public service motivation do not advocate for significantly higher budgets. The results undercut an alternative theoretical means to support Niskanen's original theory, thereby further undermining the budget maximization model. [Supplementary material is available for this article. Go to the publisher's online edition of International Public Management Journal for the following free supplemental resource: Survey Text with Vignettes.] ABSTRACT One of the most enduring theories in public management is Niskanen's model of the budget-maximizing bureaucrat. While popular, the image of bureaucrats relentlessly advocating for larger budgets has been frequently attacked. A chief criticism is that the assumption of self-interest does not align with budget maximization, since bureaucrats have little direct way to benefit from larger budgets. A more plausible assumption that offers a stronger causal logic for maximization behavior is that bureaucrats are motivated to help others. If they believe that spending on public goods is beneficial to society, public employees may be likely to advocate for larger budgets. Using vignette-experiment methodology, this article finds that individuals with higher levels of public service motivation do not advocate for significantly higher budgets. The results undercut an alternative theoretical means to support Niskanen's original theory, thereby further undermining the budget maximization model. [Supplementary material is available for this article. Go to the publisher's online edition of International Public Management Journal for the following free supplemental resource: Survey Text with Vignettes.]

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Authors

  • Donald P. Moynihan

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