Poster Paper: Are Public Executives Held Accountable? the Effects of Accountability Pressures On Public Executive Attrition

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 12:00 PM
Liberty A & B (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

James R. Harrington, University of Texas, Dallas

With the escalated adoption of accountability reforms, governments have developed performance-based systems as a means to improve performance, transparency and customer satisfaction in the service delivery process. As accountability programs become a prevalent tool to improve public agencies, scholars have extensively focused on the link between accountability reforms and organizational outcomes; yet the literature has largely overlooked how performance (i.e., not meeting accountability standards) affects executive attrition. Previous literature on executive attrition has predominantly focused on Chief Executive Officers in Fortune 500 companies. In the private sector, scholars empirically find that the attrition of executives is related to their performance (i.e., profits, revenues, stock values), and theorize that boards of directors fire executives to send a signal to the market that the organization is being revitalized with new leadership. Yet, public management literature has largely neglected to examine the relationship between attrition of public executives and their performance (i.e., meeting accountability standards).

In an attempt to meet or exceed performance, executives are in charge of structuring the work environment to be more efficient, providing feedback to employees, and fostering positive group dynamics in order to meet resultant performance goals. The question remains, however, if executives who fail to meet performance standards are more likely to be replaced. I hypothesize that public executives, like their private counterparts, are being held accountable for not meeting performance-based benchmarks. In public organizations, we might expect that boards would also replace a failing executive to send a signal of revitalization, though in that case, the expected payoff of such an action would likely be electoral.

To test this question, I examine the No Child Left Behind Act, one of the nation’s largest accountability programs, which requires public school districts to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). I use a restricted-use administrative dataset and surveys collected by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state of Missouri collects personnel information for every superintendent, principal, and teacher in the state public school system.  I examine the effect of not meeting Federal and State Accountability benchmarks on superintendent turnover across a longitudinal time panel from 1998 to 2011. Based on my preliminary analysis, I find that, unlike their private sector counterparts, failing to meet accountability standards are not associated with executive attrition. Future iterations will include a full sample of superintendents and include important interaction terms to begin to tease out the effect of not meeting performance benchmarks on executive attrition.