Organizational Goal Characteristics and Public Duty Motivation in U.S. Federal Agencies

Date01 March 2011
Author Chan Su Jung,Hal G. Rainey
Published date01 March 2011
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
31(1) 28 –47
© 2011 SAGE Publications
Reprints and permission: http://www.
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X10394404
4ROP31110.1177/0734371X10394404Jung and RaineyReview of Public Personnel Administration
1The City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China
2The University of Georgia, Athens
Corresponding Author:
Hal G. Rainey, Department of Public Administration and Policy, The University of Georgia,
204 Baldwin Hall, Athens, GA 30602-1615
Organizational Goal
Characteristics and
Public Duty Motivation
in U.S. Federal Agencies
Chan Su Jung1 and Hal G. Rainey2
Some authors have claimed that ambiguous goals frustrate public service motivation
(PSM). This study uses data from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Program
Assessment Rating Tool (PART)1 to develop organizational goal ambiguity measures
for U.S. federal agencies. These measures, from this very separate and independent
source, are then significantly and negatively related to a variable measured by a
questionnaire item on the U.S. Merit System Protection Board’s 2005 Merit Principles
Survey. The item asks respondents about whether they are motivated to do a good
job by their duty as a public employee. Responses on this item appear relevant to
PSM, but because the question does not fully represent more elaborate measures
of PSM, we call the variable as “public duty motivation.” Public duty motivation also
relates significantly and positively to employees’ Merit Principles Survey responses
about the specificity of their job goals and of their agency’s mission, and about job-
goal importance and job-goal commitment.
public service motivation, public duty motivation, goal ambiguity, job-goal commitment,
job-goal importance, job-goal specificity, mission specificity
As Perry and Wise (1990) formalized the public service motivation (PSM) construct
and defined PSM as “an individual’s predisposition to respond to motives grounded
Jung and Rainey 29
primarily or uniquely in public institutions and organizations” (p. 368), academic interest
in this motivation concept has burgeoned (e.g., Alonso & Lewis, 2001; Brewer, Selden,
& Facer Ii, 2000; Dehart-Davis, Marlowe, & Pandey, 2006; Houston, 2000, 2006;
Moynihan & Pandey, 2007; Pandey, Wright, & Moynihan, 2008; Perry, 1996, 1997,
2000; Perry & Hondeghem, 2008; Scott & Pandey, 2005; Steijn, 2008; Vandenabeele,
2008; Wright, 2001, 2007). The study we report here contributes to this stream of
research via an analysis of a survey of federal employees and of the U.S. Office of
Management and Budget’s (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2006) Program
Assessment Rating Tool (PART) data. The analysis examines the relationship between
organizational goal characteristics and employee responses about their motivation that
appear clearly relevant to PSM. The dependent variable is an indirect measure of PSM,
however. The survey included one categorical question asking the respondents about
the extent to which they agreed with the statement, “I am motivated to do a good job
by my duty as a public employee.” Agreement with this statement appears to indicate
PSM, but to be clear about the nature of our dependent variable, we will refer to it as
public duty motivation (as a shorter term than public service duty motivation).
This study contributes to understanding PSM by conducting an empirical test about
how organizational goal and task goal properties relate to employees’ responses about
their duty as a public employee as a motivator. A basic question in this analysis con-
cerns whether public duty motivation (and probably PSM) can be influenced by expe-
riences in government service rather than being solely a personal attribute that tends
to lead a person to join government service. While individuals vary in their tendencies
to feel a sense of duty as a public employee, and this may lead some individuals to
seek government service more than others do, will their sense of duty as a government
employee be influenced by conditions of their work, such as the ambiguity or clarity
of their program’s goals? Based on a framework provided by the goal setting theory of
work motivation and by empirical goal ambiguity theory, this study tests the relation-
ships that various goal properties have with public employees’ public duty motivation
in U.S. federal agencies. The goal properties include: organizational goal ambiguity,
job-goal commitment, job-goal importance, job-goal specificity, and mission specific-
ity. One can hypothesize that goal ambiguity (lower goal clarity) will decrease public
duty motivation by making it harder for individuals to focus their efforts and to observe
the impacts of their work. On the other hand, however, goal ambiguity might increase
public duty motivation, because in the absence of clear goals individuals might respond
to and rely on a very general intrinsic, altruistic, or service-oriented source of motivation
(e.g., akin to a very general sense of “doing the right thing” or involvement in a noble
calling). We conduct multinomial logistic analysis of these goal constructs by relating
them to public duty motivation as a categorical variable. For organizational goal ambi-
guity, we develop three dimensions of this concept using data from the 2006 PART assess-
ments conducted by the OMB. For the other four goal concepts, we use the results of the
2005 Merit Principles Survey conducted by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board
(MSPB). The results of the analysis show that two of the dimensions of organizational
goal ambiguity, that is, program evaluation and time-specification goal ambiguity, relate

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