Human Resources in Multilevel Service Provision Performance: The Role of Field Offices and Local Organizations

AuthorRicardo A. Bello-Gomez
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2023, Vol. 43(1) 3 –32
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X211030320
Human Resources
in Multilevel Service
Provision Performance:
The Role of Field Offices
and Local Organizations
Ricardo A. Bello-Gomez1
The public management literature has extensively explored human resources’ (HR)
contribution to organizational performance. However, HR approaches are seldom
explored when assessing multilevel service provision. This research studies the
HR-performance relationship when organizations at different government levels
contribute to service provision. Beyond directly engaged local organizations, HR
in national organizations’ field offices providing ancillary services may influence
local service performance; however, local organizations’ HR levels moderate this
contribution. Education in Colombia allows testing this model. While local schools
directly provide classroom instruction, a national agency’s (Instituto Colombiano de
Bienestar Familiar, ICBF) field offices provide related services. Relative workforce size
and educational attainment serve to assess HR of schools and ICBF’s field offices while
high school enrollment and dropout rates capture education provision performance.
Schools’ HR increase performance and moderate ICBF’s indirect influence, offering
evidence for both substitutive and reinforcing relationships between local and national
organizations in service provision.
Human resources, multilevel governance, government performance, education
provision, administrative decentralization
1Texas Tech University, Lubbock, USA
Corresponding Author:
Ricardo A. Bello-Gomez, Texas Tech University, 113 Holden Hall, Boston & Akron Streets, Lubbock,
TX 79409, USA.
1030320ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X211030320Review of Public Personnel AdministrationBello-Gomez
4 Review of Public Personnel Administration 43(1)
The role of human resources (HR) in public organizations’ performance has been
extensively studied in the field of public management. Availability and quality of per-
sonnel are identified as core dimensions in several definitions of capacity (Christensen
& Gazley, 2008; Ingraham et al., 2003) and as sources of service provision improve-
ment (Boyne, 2003). Scholars have also explored the performance effect of HR man-
agement and practices (Gould-Williams, 2003; O’Toole & Meier, 2009; Vermeeren
et al., 2014), as well as the effect of non-cognitive HR factors such as motivation
(Brewer, 2008; Vandenabeele, 2007), empowerment (Fernandez & Moldogaziev,
2013), and job satisfaction (Pitts, 2009). While many of these findings correspond to
local public organizations, less is known about the influence that national agencies
providing related services on the ground might have on local service provision perfor-
mance, and its relationship to local HR. National agencies’ field offices and local
organizations may be subject to similar environmental contexts at the local level.
However, they respond to different sets of incentives (Hong, 2017) and may be admin-
istratively structured in different ways. Therefore, their interaction allows to study the
HR influence on service provision performance in seldom explored governance
This gap might partially be explained by the substantial focus of the extant litera-
ture on cases in the United States where the coexistence of national and local govern-
ments on the ground is not common. To be sure, while intergovernmental collaboration
and interaction exist in countries like the US, having national and local officials simul-
taneously playing the role of street-level bureaucrats is rare. Meanwhile, in unitary but
decentralized systems in the developing world, national governments often operate, on
the ground, in policy areas closely related to those that are local governments’ respon-
sibility. Thus, performance can be conceived as the joint product of national and local
contributions through their own bureaucracies at the street level. While the literature
on decentralization has emphasized a financial viewpoint to understand government
production functions (Bahl & Linn, 1994; Porto et al., 2018), it has rather neglected
the role of organizational, administrative, and human factors (Ahmad et al., 2005).
Consequently, the interaction of national and local governments through their own
bureaucracies for service provision has received scarce scholarly attention (Bello-
Gomez, 2020).
To address this gap in the literatures of HR management and decentralization, this
research explores the interactive contribution of national and local public organizations’
HR to education provision’s performance in Colombia. While classroom instruction is
directly provided by locally managed schools, the national child protection agency
(Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, ICBF) provides ancillary services that
target school enrollment through field offices spread over the country. Like other coun-
tries in Latin America and the developing world overall, Colombia has a deeply uneven
distribution of state capacity and outcomes across its territory (O’Donnell, 1993; Soifer,
2015). In terms of government outcomes, for instance, the 2018 census reported that
3.7% of Colombians lived in extreme poverty while some of the departamentos (prov-
inces) reported more than 10% of extreme poverty with a maximum in the departa-
mento of Vichada at a staggering 50% (Departamento Administrativo Nacional de

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