What are some of the decision-making strategies that we use in public policy debates and for public organizations?

What are some of the decision-making strategies that we use in public policy debates and for public organizations?.

Energy Efficiency Tax Credit Exercise For 2008, energy efficiency credits up to $10,000 were available for homeowners who installed solar electric panels, solar water heating, wind energy, or geothermal heat pumps.  The credits covered 30 percent of the cost of equipment and installation.  The credits were subtracted directly from the income tax owed.  To take advantage of the credits, the owners were required to have a tax bill as much as or greater than the amount of the credits.  In addition, they were required to have enough income to purchase the equipment.

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Before you attempt the exercise, you need to familiarize yourself with Form 1040 and Form 5695.

Internal Revenue Service Form 1040 Click a search engine name to learn about the Internal Revenue Service and to view instructions for Form 1040.

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Internal Revenue Service Form 5695 Click a search engine name to learn about the Internal Revenue Service and to view instructions for Form 5695.

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The following table lists three taxpayers who have annual gross incomes of $9,000, $45,000, and $70,000, respectively.  Assume that each of these taxpayers is filing as a single person.

For each taxpayer, complete the table by providing missing values in the text boxes.  Consider who benefits most from the tax credits and how equitable the credits are.

Energy Efficiency Tax credits by Income Adjusted Gross Income $9,000 $45,000 $70,000 Standard and Personal Deductions $8,950 $8,950 $8,950 Approximate Taxes $4 $5,350 $11,600 Energy Credit Available $4 $5,350 $10,000

Required Energy Expenditures

$13 $17,833 $33,333


As a policy goal, liberty is not as easily implemented through bureaucracies as are the other goals. In terms of employment policy, one reason it is difficult is the hierarchical nature of bureaucracies and their focus on the equal application of rules. Both are designed to promote efficiency. However, as we discussed earlier, an interest in democratic public administration, particularly participatory management approaches, can often provide employees with opportunities to voice their opinions in organizational decisions. In addition, the innovations in e-Government, as you will discuss later, may provide an easier mechanism to provide input about the policies and procedures being implemented by bureaucracies. In both cases, the opportunity to voice opinions in bureaucratic decisions is a key aspect of liberty. In this way, the sometimes conflicting goals of liberty and efficiency can actually co-exist—liberty through employees being allowed to voice their views while the efficiency of the hierarchical structure is maintained.

Bureaucracy is not just implementation of programs and laws set by the legislative bodies. Bureaucracies are typically given latitude to develop the rules and processes they use to achieve the requirements of the laws and programs approved by the legislative branch. In addition, bureaucracies also determine how they will balance the policy goals of equity, efficiency, liberty, and security in their implementation plans.

While the formal structure and rules of bureaucracies are supposed to determine their activities and outcomes, it is impossible for the organization and rules to anticipate or control all factors that affect outcomes. One factor that influences the activities of bureaucracies is the emergence of informal groups. Next, we will consider the development and impact of informal groups on bureaucratic activity. We will also pay attention to organizational politics and their relationship to equity and liberty.

Oftentimes, there is more focus on efficiency and security in public agencies. Can you think of examples where a trade-off among the four policy goals has been made?

Next are some examples for you to understand the trade-offs among the policy goals.

Which Policy Goal? You need to select the goals that you think are the most important for the example listed here.

Example 1: War on Terrorism

● Efficiency ● Equity ● Liberty ● Security

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The expert’s view on this example is: The war on terrorism has many trade-offs between security and liberty.  If you think in terms of protection of the country’s borders, then security would likely be the primary policy goal.  On the other hand, if you are thinking of individual citizen’s civil rights, then liberty would likely be the primary policy goal.

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Example 2:  No Child Left Behind Act

● Efficiency ● Equity ● Liberty ● Security

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The expert’s view on this example is: The goal of liberty is not that of individual personal liberty as much as it is the liberty of individual states to act in what they believe is in the best interests of its citizens.  That goal, though, could be in conflict with the policy goal of equity if each state implements the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in ways that vary from state to state.

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Example 3:  Defense of Marriage Act

● Efficiency ● Equity ● Liberty ● Security


Bureaucracies are characterized by formal rules, a specific organizational structure, and groups. For example, the U.S. Forest Service, a division of the Department of Agriculture, has many formal groups. The formal groups include:

  • Administrative, for example, the Office of the Chief
  • Budget and Finance, for example, the Office of Budget Analysis
  • Business Operations, for example, Human Resources Management
  • National Forest System, for example, Ecosystem Management
  • Research and Development, for example, Environmental Sciences

The formal groups within a bureaucracy are specified by the rules of the organization. In addition, the rules and processes of the organization specify how these formal groups work together to operate to achieve the most positive outcomes, at least in theory. In the case of the U.S. Forest Service, these outcomes include healthy forests, lumber, and recreation.

While bureaucratic theory suggests that the Forest Service will work as an integrated entity to pursue its goals efficiently, practice is different. This is because the goals of the Forest Service, which are formally determined through legislative politics, can conflict. For example, one of the primary goals of the Forest Service is the production of lumber, which requires cutting trees. Cutting trees affects the other two primary organizational goals—healthy forests and recreation. Conflicts among goals within an organization often result in divisions that lead to the development of informal groups, both within an organization and among the groups who receive benefits or costs from the organization.

When the Forest Service was created, forests were more abundant and the primary function of the Forest Service was to work with timber companies to manage the cutting of trees. All Forest Service employees were forest management generalists, with an emphasis on managing extraction.

Since the 1960s, the growth of outdoor recreation, concern over environmental issues, and an increased knowledge of the forest environments required hiring of more specialists for the Forest Service, including hydrologists, biologists, and outdoor recreation specialists. This created a greater diversity of perspectives on forest management among Forest Service personnel.

Within the Forest Service, traditional foresters, biologists, and recreation specialists emerged as informal groups in the bureaucracy. Note that there are other informal groups also. These informal groups have overlapping, but different priorities. As an example, consider the following:

  • Foresters: Are especially interested in timber extraction
  • Biologists: Are most interested in preservation
  • Recreationists: Want to promote activities such as hiking, biking, and skiing in the forests

Rather than being a seamless, well-integrated bureaucracy, the Forest Service is now characterized by greater dissent over the proper management of forests.

Competing informal groups within an organization can conflict with the goals of providing efficiency and security. However, the goals of liberty and equity should be properly incorporated into the bureaucracy’s plans and programs.

Conflict among informal groups has the potential to promote equity by balancing the interests of different groups. For example, the Forest Service was once dominated by foresters who primarily managed the forests for timber extraction.

The diversification of the agency to include recreation and ecosystem health as priorities should allow the agency to serve a greater range of people and values, thereby increasing the equitability of the outcomes produced by the agency.

How would you balance the four goals of public policy if you ran the Forest Service? Think about why you chose that particular balance. Take a minute to really think about why—consider your underlying assumptions about bureaucracies. Think about the US efforts to stop terrorists and how you would balance those same goals. Is the relative weight you give to each of the goals the same for the efforts to stop terrorists as it was for the Forest Service?

Why or why not? Take a minute to think about the answer. Well, the answer is that no matter what balance you selected, the important thing is that you can provide a justification for that balance.

How do we make these decisions? What are some of the decision-making strategies that we use in public policy debates and for public organizations? We will now examine two issues in decision-making: incremental choices and “muddling through.”


What are some of the decision-making strategies that we use in public policy debates and for public organizations?

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