Do governments maintain major policy changes?
The public sector serves a diverse citizenry across many different policy areas. To better serve their citizens, governments strive to develop routines and normalize service delivery. Stable policy environments lead to predictability over time in the amount of work and possible solutions for bureaucrats and public officials to implement. Both citizens and governments can benet from policy stability. However, governments sometime break from normal operations and alter their policy plans. This is an essential part of government innovation. Recent research by Flink and Robinson in the Journal of Public Policy, “Corrective Policy Reactions: Positive and Negative Budgetary Punctuations,” examines the direction of and reaction to major policy changes known as punctuations. Are large policy changes kept? Reversed? Amplied? The authors’ findings suggest policy punctuations are quickly, though not completely, reversed in the next year.
The study by Flink and Robinson focuses on local policy decisions in public education. As a measure of policy choice, Flink and Robinson examine the spending decisions for instructional expenditures per student in school districts in Texas from 1993 to 2010. Policy shifts are generally accompanied by budgetary alterations to help meet new expectations. Instructional expenditures represent the fundamental, core work of school districts. In their empirical analysis, the authors find that when instructional expenditures are largely increased, it is highly likely to be decreased in the next year. Likewise, drastic budgetary cuts are quickly restored in the next year. The expenditure reversals, though, do not completely match the initial large budgetary change. It is corrective, but not a fully corrective, one-to-one match.
For practitioners working in these volatile budgets, there is some comfort in knowing large budget cuts are likely to be restored in the next year. For large budget increases, these findings suggest they are temporary (so utilize the funds well!). For scholars of public policy, this research brings new light to our understanding of public policy dynamics over time. Scholars have studied what promotes punctuations in the policy process and found that factors such as veto points, centralization, organization performance, employee turnover, policy attention, organization size, etc. all impact the propensity of punctuations. Other research in the field has shown how budgetary punctuations clustered together over time. This work further examined the dynamic pattern of punctuations by seeing the direction (positive or negative) within punctuation clusters and the unique expectations between positive and negative punctuations.
Carla M. Flink, American University and Scott E. Robinson, University of Oklahoma.
Flink and Robinson’s JPP article is available free access until the end of October 2018.