Frontline Bureaucratic Attitude toward Administrative Integration: Does Organizational Configuration Matter?

Published date01 August 2023
AuthorFangda Ding,Bo Wen,Jongmin Shon
Date01 August 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(7) 1255 –1289
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997231165995
Frontline Bureaucratic
Attitude toward
Integration: Does
Configuration Matter?
Fangda Ding1, Bo Wen2,
and Jongmin Shon3
The attitudes of frontline bureaucrats play a crucial role in the
implementation of administrative restructuring. Administrative integration is
a type of administrative reform that can fundamentally change the structure
of a local administrative system and may face opposition from local public
bureaucracies. Successful administrative integration requires reformers
to comprehensively grasp the factors that influence frontline bureaucrats’
attitudes toward this distinctive form of administrative restructuring.
This study empirically examines how organizational configurations shape
bureaucratic attitudes toward administrative integration. The findings have
both theoretical and practical implications for research on bureaucratic
attitudes, organizational configurations, and administrative integration.
administrative integration, bureaucratic attitude, organizational configuration
1Rutgers University Newark, Newark, NJ, USA
2City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region),
People’s Republic of China
3Soongsil University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Corresponding Author:
Bo Wen, Department of Public and International Affairs, City University of Hong Kong, Room
5339, Li Dak Sum Yip Yio Chin Academic Building, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR.
1165995AAS0010.1177/00953997231165995Administration & SocietyDing et al.
1256 Administration & Society 55(7)
Organizational outcomes have gained increasing attention from public sec-
tors worldwide since the emergence of the “New Public Management.”
Various methods of administrative restructuring have been devised to enhance
the quality and efficiency of public service delivery (e.g., Dunleavy & Hood,
1994; Hood, 1995; McLaughlin et al., 2002). One major approach to admin-
istrative reform, known as “administrative integration” or “coordination,”
has been widely adopted by numerous countries aiming to establish an effec-
tive administrative system. While policy integration emphasizes the policy
process and aims to achieve integrated policy objectives, administrative inte-
gration concentrates on organizational structure and interagency coordination
(Bouckaert et al., 2010; Trein & Maggetti, 2020). As public organizations
tend to resist change, administrative integration may proceed more slowly
than policy integration. However, it can result in significant and profound
impacts by altering the structure of the public sector (Buchanan & Badham,
2008; Pierson, 1996). Therefore, administrative integration can be more
influential than other types of administrative reform on frontline bureaucrats,
who are the main stakeholders of local agencies. The acceptance of adminis-
trative integration by bureaucrats determines the success of this systemic
restructuring effort. Nevertheless, only a limited number of studies have
examined the factors that contribute to bureaucratic attitudes or behaviors
toward this specific administrative change.
Extensive research has been conducted on the role of bureaucratic atti-
tudes in administrative reforms. As local implementers of policy proposals,
frontline bureaucrats’ attitudes have been found to significantly impact the
success of administrative changes in the public sector. Their attitudes toward
what is highlighted in administrative reforms can affect their motivation to
comply with the reforms (e.g., Tummers et al., 2012). Conversely, adverse
bureaucratic attitudes, such as shirking, free-riding, and power misuse, have
been shown to negatively impact service delivery quality during the imple-
mentation phase (e.g., Brehm & Gates, 1999). Moreover, the attitudes of indi-
vidual bureaucrats, when aggregated, can be internalized and influence the
organizational culture, resulting in collective actions oriented toward admin-
istrative reform (e.g., May & Winter, 2007). Despite the well-documented
significance of bureaucratic attitudes toward the outcomes of administrative
reform, few studies have systematically explored the antecedents of such atti-
tudes, particularly in public organizational settings.
Numerous public administration studies have emphasized the impact of
organizational configurations on bureaucratic behaviors and attitudes. Micro-
level theories such as street-level bureaucracy and principal-agent
Ding et al. 1257
relationships have highlighted the crucial role of discretion in shaping the
power of frontline bureaucrats during policy implementation. Bureaucrats’
attitudes toward ongoing or impending administrative changes depend on the
level of discretion that is allowable and how much it will be affected by the
changes (e.g., Wilson, 2019; Tummers & Bekkers, 2014; Wood & Waterman,
1991). On a meso-level, organizational structures, including formalization,
centralization, and professionalization levels, indirectly affect bureaucratic
behaviors by conditioning their working environments (Glisson & Martin,
1980; Rainey, 2009; Shapiro et al., 2006). Frontline bureaucrats develop an
image of an ideal workplace arrangement, which can serve as a reference for
their sentiments about structural changes imposed on their departments.
However, empirical studies on how organizational configurations at micro-
and meso-levels determine frontline bureaucratic attitudes toward major
macro-scale changes, such as administrative integration, remain scarce (e.g.,
Tummers & Bekkers, 2014; Tummers et al., 2012).
This study aims to address the gaps in the literature by investigating the
linkages between bureaucratic attitudes, organizational configurations, and
administrative integration. It empirically examines the association between
different organizational configurations and the attitudes of frontline bureau-
crats toward administrative integration within the context of a prolonged
administrative reform in China. The study surveyed around 700 officials from
two municipalities in Hubei Province and found that discretion, supervision,
and professionalization in the organizational structure significantly influenced
the attitudes of local bureaucrats toward administrative integration. Those
who had prior experience with such a change were more likely to support it.
This study contributes to the literature on bureaucratic attitudes and adminis-
trative changes by enriching the theoretical and practical perspectives. Firstly,
it extends the theory of organizational behavior in the public sector by explor-
ing the relationship between structural factors and individual behaviors from
an attitudinal perspective to identify the primary organizational factors that
shape bureaucratic sentiments toward administrative changes. Secondly, it
provides insights into the use of organizational structural designs to gain sup-
port from bureaucrats, which is critical to establishing successful long-term
strategies for the reconstruction of local governmental systems.
Discretion, Administrative Integration, and
Bureaucratic Attitudes
From a micro perspective, scholars of street-level bureaucracy theory con-
tend that perceived discretion as an explicit and behavioral aspect of organi-
zational configuration plays a crucial role in shaping bureaucratic attitudes

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