Moving Beyond Discretion and Outcomes: Examining Public Management from the Front Lines of the Welfare System

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This article investigates front-line conditions within two sectors charged with the delivery of social welfare programs- public bureaucracies and private contractors. I examine two traditions of public management that operate in these organizations and focus on how each tries to direct front-line action. Drawing upon ethnographic data, I discover a disjuncture between these management frameworks and day-to-day front-line operations. A body of social theory that posits that individuals both create and are constrained by social structures is used to understand these findings. The application of this theory both suggests that there is an ongoing social process not capitalized upon by existing management approaches and offers a new explanation for the persistence of certain management challenges in these sectors. The article concludes with a discussion of research propositions and management techniques that emerge from this inductive analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-756
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000
Externally publishedYes


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