Goal ambiguity, work complexity, and work routineness in federal agencies

Jung Wook Lee, Hal G. Rainey, Young Han Chun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Prominent scholars have observed that public organizations and policies tend to have ambiguous goals, but research on these assertions is scarce. This analysis adds to a recent set of studies that developed measures of organizational goal ambiguity and found that federal agencies vary on these measures due to differences in funding patterns and other variables. This study adds variables representing the nature of the agencies' work-the routineness and complexity of their technologies and tasks. As hypothesized, complexity relates positively to one dimension of goal ambiguity, "directive goal ambiguity." Routineness of tasks relates negatively to "evaluative goal ambiguity," whereas complexity relates positively to it. These results further evince the value of the measures of goal ambiguity and their potential contribution to analysis of variations among government agencies, and to such issues as the applicability of various managerial reforms to different agencies. The results also contribute indicators of organizational task complexity and routineness that researchers can use to take into account the type of work that an agency does, in analyzing government agencies and differences among them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-308
Number of pages25
JournalAmerican Review of Public Administration
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010 May

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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