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Does Quality Management Work in the Public Sector?

Author: SHAND H. STRINGHAM
Published in PAM, Vol. 9 No. 3

This article examines the quality movement in the United States during the past
two decades in the context of public management. Its primary focus is on the utility of
quality management approaches in the rapidly changing public organizational
environment today in which stability is rare and change, uncertainty, complexity, and
ambiguity are frequently the only constants. The fundamental issue explored here is the
appropriateness of the application of a management approach that was originally designed
specifically for the corporate manufacturing environment to public management needs and
requirements. Supplementing empirical evidence from several short-term applications of
TQM in federal and state agencies, the paper reviews the impact of the Pennsylvania
Department of Transportation’s twenty-year experience with its quality improvement
program on overall organizational performance and productivity. The synergistic effect of
a comprehensive strategic management program on a public quality program is also
examined. The article concludes with a discussion of the challenges of sustaining a quality
program through the frequent changeover of senior political appointee leadership and the
inherent tension between process improvement quality approaches and cost savings/cost
avoidance approaches that surface during times of government fiscal crises.

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