Princeton study says federal careerists make better managers

"Political Appointments, Bureau Chiefs and Federal Management Performance"

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Agency experience and long tenure in government make the best federal managers, according to a recent Princeton University study of federal management performance. The study is timely with public scrutiny now focused on the performance of political appointees at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Based on scores from the Bush administration’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), the study found that political appointees have higher education levels and more varied work experiences. But it also found that those résumé facts do not make appointees better managers than career federal employees.

The PART scores, which rate how well managers lead federal programs, are useful for analyzing variations in management performance, even though the scores are imperfect, said the report’s author, David Lewis, an assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton.

For the study, Lewis used PART scores from 614 federal programs.

Lewis wrote that the study confirms the claim of the National Commission on the Public Service, which has suggested that increasing the number of appointees could be bad for federal agency performance.

“The persistent willingness of presidents to keep a large number of appointees, even when this is bad for management, suggests that presidents are willing to trade management competence in order to secure ideological consistency or loyalty and satisfy demands for patronage,” according to a report on the study.

Lewis wrote that future research should explore the question of how the president and federal lawmakers make decisions about whether appointees or careerists should manage federal programs.

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