Journal of Management

The effects of politics and power on the organizational commitment of federal executives

The effects of politics and power on the organizational commitment of federal executives

Patricia A. Wilson

The use of politics and power is endemic to organizations. People come to work situations with many goals, not just one unified goal. These goals invoke conflict and competition among workers for the expenditure of scarce resources. This competition, in turn, effects the use of power and politics. Wildavsky (1964), Harvey and Mills (1970), Pettigrew (1973), Frost and Hayes (1979), and Pfeffer (1981) all associated political activity in organizations with the distribution of resources or other advantages. Pfeffer (1981), and Pfeffer and Salancik (1974) were especially interested in political behaviors associated with budgetary decisions.

Although several researchers recognize the presence of politics and the use of power in organizations, the approaches used to study this topic vary considerably. Crozier (1964), for example, was among the first to identify subunit power. He observed how the ability of plant maintenance engineers to control uncertainty (by being the only group that could repair broken-down machinery) was a source of power for them. Thompson (1967) also stressed “uncertainty coping” as a source of power. Salancik and Pfeffer (1977), and Tushman and Romanelli (1983) argued that those who are able to cope with uncertainty will adjust their social standing and increase their power in the organization. Woodward (1965), on the other hand, emphasized one’s critical function in an organization as a source of power, while Hickson, Hining, Lee, Schneck and Pennings (1971), Salancik and Pfeffer (1977), Astley and Sachdeva (1984) identified several important variables including, resource control, hierarchical authority, non-substitutability, uncertainty coping, and centrality as sources of power and as connecting links to organizational politics.

Francis E. Rourke’s (1976) identification of an agency’s bases of power was very similar to the findings of Salancik and Pfeffer and Hickson et. al. Among the several bases of power he identified were: (1) the nature of an agency’s expertise; (2) the nature of and size of an agency’s constituencies; and, (3) the quality of an agency’s leadership (leadership power). Rourke uses the concept of substitutability/non-substitutability to explain the nature of an agency’s expertise, and his discussion of “a strong public constituency as a source of power in an agency” embodies the concept of resource control as a source of subunit power (pp. 228-234).

Pfeffer (1981) argued that organizational power is a function of the structure. Power inheres in one’s structural position, which provides access to people, information, and financial resources (budgets). Those in power stay in power by reinforcing the existing structure of the organization.

All of the above studies and others, have failed to investigate the effects of politics and power on organizational commitment, especially the effects of these factors on the commitment of top executives in the public sector. This study will add to what is known about organizational effectiveness with the development of theories of politics and power as explanations for commitment levels of Senior Executive Service (SES) managers in the federal government.

Retention of quality workers, performance and/or productivity are among the important measures of organizational effectiveness. However, because of its effect on performance (productivity) and turnover, “commitment” is the organizational outcome examined in this research. To understand SES members’ level/degree of commitment to public service it is important to first review reasons why SES members join, stay in, and decide to leave the federal government.

Reasons for Joining, Staying In and Leaving Public Sector Employment

Perry and Wise (1990) identified three motivational bases as reasons why one would want employment in the public: sector. Two of these, a norm-based reason and a rational motive, are especially pertinent to this study. Although they did not believe that all public employees are driven by these needs, they argued that “a desire to serve the public interest”, “loyalty to duty and to the government as a whole”, and “social equity” are normative orientations commonly used to explain why individuals choose public sector employment (p. 369). Downs (1967), Wamsley, Goodsell, Rohr, Stivers, White and Wolf (1987), Karl (1979), and Lasson (1978) also identified “a desire to serve the public interest” as a normative foundation for public employment. Serving the public interest involves those administrative and policy activities which provide the “greatest good for the greatest number of people”.

There are also rational motives, which are “sometimes grounded in individual utility maximization”, for desiring civil service employment (Perry & Wise, 1990, p. 368). Kelman (1987) and Rawls (1971) believed that a persons maybe be drawn to the public sector because such employment lets them participate in the process of policy formulation, and such involvement, in and of itself, can reinforce an individual’s image of self importance. In summary, then, the “desire to serve the public interest” and the “desire to participate in the process of policy formulation” are believed to be reasons why SES members sought careers as civil servants.

On the other hand, the following are among the strongest reasons SES members give for staying. in public service: they enjoy the work, they want to have an impact on public affairs, the retirement system, and job security, current annual and sick leave benefits. It is important to note that the need to participate in public policy formulation (to serve the public interest) explains both why persons choose public service employment and stay in such careers.

Although there have been many reasons given by executives for leaving the federal government [including: the negative image associated with Federal employment; lack of promotion potential, and Salary levels (See “The 1984 Report on the Senior Executive Service” and “Working For America”)], in a 1985 study done by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO), two reasons, (1)”dissatisfaction with top management” and (2)”dissatisfaction with political appointees”, were among the reasons rated as very important out of the 55 considered (“Senior Executive Service: Reasons Why…”).

These two reasons motivated the development of theories of power and politics as explanations for commitment presented in this research. More explicit explanations of the source of SES members’ dissatisfaction with political appointees and/or top management are needed. Why were they dissatisfied with these groups? Although the GAO study did not specify the nature of the dissatisfaction that SES members had with top managers and political appointees, it is believed that politics and power struggles were involved.

While power and politics are related topics, they are believed to be conceptually and empirically different phenomena. Power is defined as the “capacity of social actors [organizational members] to achieve desired objectives or results” (Astley & Sachdeva, 1984, p. 104). The concept of politics, on the other hand, refers “to the structure and process of the use of authority and power to effect definitions of goals, directions, other major parameters of the organization…” (Wamsley & Zald, 1973, p. 18). Madison, Allen, Porter, Renwick and Mayes (1980) defined organizational politics as “a process of influence or the ‘management of influence’…while power is a reservoir of potential influence…”(p. 81). Mintzberg (1984), on the other hand, posited that:

Politics may be considered to constitute one among a number of systems of influence in the organization… The system of politics… may be described as reflecting power that is technically illegitimate (or, perhaps more accurately ‘alegitimate’) in its means (and sometimes in its ends as well”…[Political behavior in organizations is] “neither formally authorized, widely accepted, nor officially certified. As a result, political behavior is typically divisive and conflictive, often pitting individuals or groups against formal authority, accepted ideology, and/or certified expertise, or else against each other (p. 134).

Mintzberg (1983, 1984, 1985) believed that there is a negative relationship between interpersonal relationships, performance and productivity, and pervasive and prolong politics in organizations. His definition of organizational politics images the conceptualization of the politics investigated in this study.

Power-Based Theory

The public bureau (i.e., the federal government) provides a unique setting in which to study organizational power and politics. It is an organization in which the work provides an opportunity for its managers/executives to become involved in the implementation of public policy. Public policies and programs are driven by power struggles and politics.

SES members, as organizational managers and primary implementors of federal policy, are inadvertently involved in political activities because the implementation and managerial processes themselves involve political activities and power struggles. Pfeffer (1981) maintained that “management (which involves the implementation of policy) is itself a political activity” (p. xi). Stone (1980) also felt that the implementation process is a political process. He defined implementation as the “concrete activity that comes as follow-through to a previously set goal” (p. 13). He argued that as a continuing process of specification and reassessment, it (the implementation process) inescapably brings about goal modification and becomes a political process” (p. 13). The implementation process is a significant part of the policy-making process. In their roles as implementors then, career executives become “instruments” of the political process. As instruments, SES members become entangled in a web (a political “hot bed”) of many conflicting and competing goals, values, and demands. Between these goals and the actual implementation processes are centers of power, e.g., elected officials, special interests groups, private citizens, bureaucratic professionals, each with competing interests. Stone (1980) explained further that:

the political sociologist sees implementation as an integral part of the political process, as a phase of policy formation in which centers of power and interest interpose themselves between goals and the concrete plans to achieve those goals (p. 19).

To successfully implement policy which serves public interest (i.e., “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”), then, requires power. SES members, as implementors, need power to be able to neutralized those power centers which have agendas other than the public interest. If such centers of power are interposed between goal establishment (goals set by Congress) and goal implementation, then the nature and effects of power needed to successfully implement policy which truly serves public interest (as opposed to only the demands of special groups), and ensure organizational commitment of the implementators, are important to identify and understand. The use, control and distribution of power are fundamental activities in implementation processes. Power determines who gets what, when and how (Morgan, 1986, p. 158).

The power-based theory includes the subunit power, leadership power, leadership behavior variables. Subunit power and leadership power are believed to have the most significant effects on commitment. The degree of influence that SES members could have on public policy is as much a function of the power of the subunit and of the leadership in the subunit, as it is their own managerial skills and experiences.

Subunit power embodies those elements which are essential for the survival of agencies in government and for the implementation/influence of public policy. Expert work skills and experiences (non-substitutable skills), as opposed to general administrative skills, which are needed by government will ensure the power of the subunits. Resource control (both constituent and financial support) are needed for the survival of the agency (work units). Communication networks are needed for both the survival of an agency as well as for the influence of policy. The ability to cope with uncertainty also enhances the power of a work unit and agency. [Resource control, network centrality, coping with uncertainty, and non-substitutability (Astley & Sachdeva, 1984; Hickson et al., 1974; Salancik & Pfeffer, 1977) are concepts used in the literature to define subunit power. These will be explained later.]

The concept of leadership power includes both technical and conceptual abilities, as well as political skill. In reference to technical and conceptual abilities, those supervisors who have leadership power have “the ability to administer to another person information, knowledge, or expertise” (Hinkins & Schreisheim, 1988, p. 48). SES members are themselves experts in the management and implementation of federal programs. Their education, longevity and experiences in the federal government have ensured their abilities in these areas. Only those supervisors with greater conceptual abilities and/or technical abilities can administer to SES members the information, knowledge, and expertise needed to improve policy implementation processes and enhance executives’ participation in the influence of public policy, which in turn could increase their level of commitment.

Technical and conceptual skills are not the only components of leadership power, however. In the context of a political environment, leadership power takes on another meaning. Within this framework, leadership power refers to the political ability of the leader to accomplish the goals of the subunit by “ensuring a favorable response to the agency from outside groups and organizations that control resources upon which it (the subunit/agency) depends” (Rourke, 1976, pp. 241-242). The significance of a politically powerful leader is evident when one considers the political nature of the federal government discussed above.

The third variable, leadership behavior, examines SES members’ perceptions of the way their supervisors use, control and distribute their power within the context of a supervisor-subordinate relationship. Supervisors can use power in two general ways: (1) they can use power to dominate and subjugate subordinates by keeping them weak and dependent on the leader or, (2) they can exercise power in a cautious, responsible manner with the objective of internalizing motivation and organizational commitment in subordinates (Yukl, 1981, p. 59). The behavior used by supervisors to control and motivate their workers will affect job satisfaction and commitment in organizations.

Theory of Politics

The theories of politics and power provide different explanations for SES members’ levels of committee. Within the context of the relationship between leadership power and commitment, for example, the power-based theory of commitment hypothesizes that career executives are not commitment to federal employment because of their supervisors’ lack of leadership power. The theory of politics, on the other hand, involves measuring the effects of “arbitrary personnel practices” and “political control” variables on the SES members’ level of commitment.

Provisions of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA), which created the Senior Executive Service, expanded managerial prerogatives to the extent that serious doubts have been raised about the balance between responsiveness and neutrality of the federal government over time. The major questions are: By eliminating many of the protections against political abuse of executive authority and granting agency managers (i.e., SES members’ supervisors) the wide latitude to appoint, transfer, and/or remove SES members, has the political neutrality of federal service been undermined and are senior executives subjected to abusive political pressure (“The Government’s Managers”, pp. 53-59)? The examination of the effects of “arbitrary personnel practices” variable on commitment will explores executives’ opinions about these questions.

This variable examines the abuse of power, relating to personnel matters, by those in positions superior to SES members. It is posited that those in positions superior to career executives make arbitrary and capricious personnel decisions involving career executives, for reasons other than managerial efficiency and/or effectiveness, i.e., for reasons other than the successful accomplishment of organizational goals.

According to a Report of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on the Senior Executive Service, career executives believe that the SES has been politicized. They reported:

Many SES members believe that political criteria have been used in appraising performance, allocating rewards, and imposing sanctions, including making punitive reassignments…some of these fears…are not entirely unfounded… for instance, the-White counselor Edwin Meese, [Office of Personnel Management] OPM Director Donald Devine, and [Office of Management and Budget] OMB Deputy Director Joseph Wright signed a draft of a memorandum to agency heads urging them to construe SES performance appraisals as a “vehicle to insure that Administration initiatives and policies are appropriately carried out and that the primary objectives of the President are accomplished…the substance of the draft was incorporated into the final memorandum circulated to agency heads (“The Government’s Managers”, pp. 55-56).

Politics in public service is a concern because it often times leads to negative personnel management, i.e., political abuse of a merit system, which in turn leads to decay and destruction of government.

The “political control” variable investigates SES members’ opinions regarding the degree to which political neutral objectives of the SES personnel system are successfully accomplished, and their importance to the members. In a highly charged, politicized work environment, utilitarian values are compromised for decisions which advance a particular political agenda (that which is in the interest of a particular interest group) as opposed to “that which promotes the public interest”. Politics within this context refers to those activities which promote the interests of the “strongest party or group”, as opposed to enhancing the interests of a representative society – i.e., “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”.

“A politically neutral bureaucracy” is a value which, in public administration theory at least, is believed to be implicit in the need to “serve the public interest.” As previously discussed, Perry and Wise theorized the public servants are motivated by “that which is in the public interest” – “the will of the State”. Political interference usurps career executives’ efforts to promote the public interests and could decrease their level of commitment.

Research Hypotheses

The two theoretical models embody five (5) independent variables. The power-based theory includes the subunit power, leadership power, and leadership behavior variables. Hypotheses one, two, and three predict that there are statistically significant and positive relationships between commitment and: (1) subunit power; (2) leadership power, and; (3) leadership behavior, respectively.

Secondly, the theory of politics includes the “arbitrary personnel practices” and the “political control” variables. Hypothesis four predicts significant and inverse relationships between the dependent variable and “arbitrary personnel practices”. (Hypotheses 4A and 4B predict negative relationships between commitment and SES members direct and indirect experiences with their supervisors’ use of arbitrary personnel practices, respectively. A “direct experience” with arbitrary personnel practices means that SES members were the personal victims of such actions, while an “indirect experience” means that these executives witnessed such practices being used on their colleagues.) Finally, it is hypothesized that there will be a statistically significant and positive relationship between the dependent variable and the “political control” variables [both “importance of political control” (Hypothesis 5A) and “successful accomplishment of political control” (Hypothesis 5B)]. It is believed that the level of importance SES members attach to this objective is an indication of the degree to which they identify with and internalize the objectives of their work (i.e, the work itself) and is also, therefore, an indication of their degree of commitment.

Method and Procedure


From a list of 5,687 SES members, supplied by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a stratified random sample(1) of 1340 SES members from 14 cabinet departments and two agencies in the federal government were sent survey questionnaires. There were 942 responses received; a response rate of 70.29%. Men and women constituted 91.2% and 8.8%, respectively, of the sample. Approximately 35% held masters’ degrees and/or some additional graduate work, 22.6% held doctorates. Over 97% held career appointments and less than 3% were political appointees. Approximately 50% were between 46 and 55 years of age, with the age range of 51-55 being the most frequently occurring category.

Dependent Variable

The commitment scale measured SES members strength of loyalty, involvement, and identification with their subunits using a short Version (9-items) of the Mowday, Steers and Porter’s (1979) instrument. The response format employed a 5-point Likert-type scale (ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree). This variable has a reliability coefficient of 0.8957.

Independent Variables

As previously discussed, power is defined as the “capacity of social actors [organizational members] to achieve desired objectives or results” (Astley & Sachedeva, 1984, p. 104). Social actors within an organization are believed to have power when they affect outcomes of the organization.

The term “subunit” refers to the SES members’ work unit (within the department), which includes the SES members themselves, their subordinates, and the SES members’ supervisors. Subunit power refers to SES members’ perceptions of the capacity of all social actors, collectively, in their work units, to achieve their goals/mission. Substitutability/non substitutability, network centrality, “coping with uncertainty”, and resource control (see Astley & Sachedeva; Hickson et al.; Salancik & Pfeffer) are theoretical concepts used to define and operationalize the subunit power concept. They are defined as follows:

Non-substitutability/substitutability refers to the extent to which members and/or tasks of a subunit can be replaced by other members and/or tasks of other subunits.

The centrality of subunits refers to the degree to which subunit members’ activities are interlinked into the organizational system (or critical to the functions of the organization) and, the degree to which the subunits are the center point of information in the federal government.

Uncertainty is defined as a lack of information about future events, so that alternatives and their outcomes are unpredictable.

Resource Control refers to the ability of subunits to secure the human and financial resources necessary to accomplish their mission.

The reliability coefficient (Cronbach’s alpha) for the subunit power scale is 0.7509. The variable consisted of 13 items, which operationalized concepts of resource control, coping with uncertainty, non-substitutability and/or network centrality. Respondents were asked to give their opinions (using a response scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree) regarding the degree of power in their subunits. Examples of the operationalization of the 13 statements are as follows:

1. My subunit has the ability to secure the financial resources necessary to accomplish its mission.

2. The employees in my subunit have unique technical expertise and/or training which is difficult to replace.

3. The activities of this subunit are greatly interlinked with the activities of other subunits in the federal government.

The concept of “leadership power” refers to SES members’ perceptions of their supervisors’ capabilities in their internal and external responsibilities. This concept has a two-part definition: professional (expert) power and political power. Professional power refers to the “ability (of supervisors within the work units) to administer to another [subordinates] information, knowledge, or expertise” (Hinkins and Schriesheim, 1988a). (This instrument is adapted from Hinkins and Schriesheim’s, 1988b, “expert power” scale.)

Political power refers to SES members’ supervisors’ ability to attract to their subunits both financial support and public constituent support necessary for the subunit to succeed. The 6 items which operationalize this variable have a Cronbach’s alpha equal to 0.8991. The response scale ranges from “strongly agree” to “strong disagree”. Examples of the 6 statements which operationalized this variable are as follows:

1. My supervisor can provide me with needed technical knowledge.

2. My supervisor has the “clout” necessary to get the job done.

3. My supervisor is capable of getting the resources he/she needs to get things done.

The “leadership behavior” variable measures how supervisors use their power over SES members: whether they use power to subjugate or uplift senior executives, the extent to which the supervisors are “democratic” or “authoritarian” relative to decision making in the work environment, the degree to which they a establish a centralized/decentralized work structure (i.e., the degree to which they share power), their level of concern regarding the growth and development of their subordinates. The 12 variable items are descriptions of specific kinds of behaviors which can be attributed to supervisor-subordinate relationships. The scale’s reliability coefficient is 0.9318. Examples of the 12 statements which operationalized this variable are as follows:

1. My supervisor allows me to become involved in the formulation of agenda for policy.

2. My supervisor shows me a lot of trust and respect.

3. My supervisor ensures that employees fully realize their potential.

4. My supervisor makes decisions in my area of responsibility without consulting with me.

The “arbitrary personnel practices”(2) variable investigates executives’ direct (personal) and indirect (the witnessing of arbitrary personnel practices used on others in the department) experiences in the following areas: (1) “Shelving an executive by detailing or reassigning him/her to duties not of an executive nature; (2) Trying to force an executive to resign; (3) Arbitrarily lowering an executive’s performance rating; (4) Artificially structuring a reduction-in-force in order to remove a specific executive; (5) Arbitrarily demoting an executive. The 5 point Likert scale has responses ranging from “Never Happened to me” to “Happened to me many times”. Cronbach’s alphas are 0.8530 and 0.8558, respectively, for items operationalizing both the “personal experience with politics”, and “indirect experience with politics” variables.

The “political control” variable is operationalized with the aggregated use of three SES objectives:(3)

1. To ensure that the ratio of career executives to political appointees allows for program continuity and policy advocacy in the management of public programs.

2. To provide for an executive system which is guided by the public interest and free from improper political interference.

3. To protect senior executives from arbitrary and capricious actions.

SES members’ opinions regarding the importance and successful accomplishment of these goals (with Cronbach’s alphas equal to .8807 and .8804, respectively) are measured for their cumulative effects on executives’ commitment to federal service. The Likert scale includes responses ranging from “very important” to “very unimportant”, and “very successful” to “very unsuccessful”, respectively.

Statistical Analyses

A survey questionnaire was mailed to the executives. Pearson’s product-moment correlations and stepwise regression analysis are the statistical procedures performed in this research. All of the variables are measured by a Likert-type, 5-point rating scale. For each executive, the numbers representing each response to each variable item (variables items of both the independent and dependent variables) were added, which resulted in each respondent having a single summary score for each variable. The summary scores for each executive were used in the correlations and regression procedures. The analyses are based on respondents’ perceptions, opinions and/or feelings regarding the items which comprise each variable. This is believed to be a valid approach because a person’s commitment to an organization is usually based on his/her perceptions of organizational events, situations and/or behaviors rather than a reaction to “objective” fact. By concentrating on the respondents’ perceptions of who is powerful, how power is used or abused, and who or what is political, one can derive an accurate description of “the world of everyday thought and experiences,” which Calder (1977) calls “first-degree constructs.”


Pearson’s Product-Moment Correlations

Pearson’s product-moment correlations (simple correlations) were performed to determine the relationship among all the independent variables, and between the independent variables and the dependent variable. (In simple correlations, each independent variable is analyzed for its effect on each of the other independent variables and the dependent variable, without controlling for the other variables.

All of the power variables correlated with commitment as was predicted. There were positive and significant relationships (p [less than] .001) between commitment and subunit power, leadership power, and leadership behavior, respectively. The correlations between the dependent variable and these power variables were as follows: .4573; .5265; .5747, respectively. While hypotheses one, two and three are supported by these correlations, the leadership power and leadership behavior variables had higher correlations with commitment than did the subunit power variable.

The political variables also had significant correlations (p [less than] .001) with commitment variable. Hypothesis four (4A and 4B) is supported, SES members’ experiences with both direct and indirect arbitrary personnel practices had a significant and negative effect on their level of commitment. However, their indirect experiences (i.e., the witnessing of their supervisors’ use of arbitrary personnel practices on others in their work units) had a higher correlation with this dependent variable (-.3510) than did their direct experiences (-.2791).

The relationships between commitment and the “importance” and “successful accomplishment” of political control variables, respectively, were demonstrated with correlation coefficients equal to .1616 and .3976, respectively (p [less than] .001). Hypothesis five (5A and 5B) is also supported.

Table 1. Zero-Order (Simple) Correlations Between the Power and

Political Variables and Commitment

On the other hand, the “uplifting approach” does not weaken subordinates. Those who use this approach attempt to build the skills and self-confidence of workers (Yukl, 1981). They have knowledge about human behavior and interpersonal processes. They have an understanding about how the empowerment of workers through training and participatory decision-making (decentralization), how their own behavior and concern about subordinates’ growth and development, and how their sense of subordinates’ personal worth and importance, can affect workers’ commitment and most probably their productivity, as well as their retention in the workplace.

The relationship between commitment and SES members’ indirect experiences with the arbitrary personnel practices also has managerial implications. This independent variable measured the degree to which executives witnessed their supervisors’ use coercive power. The use of coercive power is the most ineffective way to manage workers, especially workers as highly trained as top executives. Those who are under the supervisor of leaders who use coercive power are very unlikely to be committed to the organization and very likely to resist the supervisor’s leadership. Yukl (1981) argued:

Effective leaders try to avoid using coercive power except when absolutely necessary, because it is likely to create resentment and erode their referent power. With coercion there is no chance of gaining subordinate commitment, and even willing compliance is difficult to achieve (p. 55).

In addition to managerial implications, this research also have public policy implications – implications for a politically neutral government. Two of the political control objectives were “to protect senior executives from arbitrary and capricious actions” and “to provide for an executive system which is guided by the public interest and free from improper political interference”. The successful implementation and/or enforcement of these objectives need the budgetary attention and policy development of Congress and the President. Joint efforts of the Congress and the President toward policy development and budgetary allocations which will ensure the full funding and staffing of the Merit System Protection Board and the Office of the Special Counsel at all times might ensure a politically neutral and meritorious government, which in turn might improve the commitment of senior career executives. Full funding and staffing of these offices might ensure the kind of investigations and appropriate punishment of all arbitrary, capricious and / or political activities relating to public personnel, especially federal executives.

Another of the political control objectives was to “ensure that the ratio of career executives to political appointees allows for program continuity and policy advocacy in the management of public programs”. Current law allows up to 25% of an agency’s senior executives to be non-career appointees. While it may be very difficult to establish a set number or percentage of non-career executives in each governmental agency for the purpose of achieving “program continuity and policy advocacy”, a reduction in the number of political appointees (those who have an average work life in government of 17 months or less) could possibly enhance the successful accomplishment of this objective, and possibly improve the commitment of career executives (The Report and Recommendations of the National Committee on the Public Service, pp. 17-19).

The Volcker Commission believed that excessive numbers of presidential appointees (political appointees) may actually dilute effective presidential leadership for two main reasons. First, neither the President nor the White House can effectively supervise large numbers of presidential appointees, who often times come to government with their own political constituencies and agendas. This situation may actually undermine the President’s efforts to establish and enforce a coherent and well coordinated program. Second, most career executives, because of their longevity in public service, have experience and knowledge which exceed the public service experience and knowledge of political appointees. However, the President and/or the White House, by interposing political appointees between themselves and career executives, may actually distance themselves from the most relevant information.

The Commission also recommended that the President and Congress mandate continuing and systematic development of highly competent career executives for sub-cabinet appointments. To fill such positions with career executives would mean a policy change involving a reduction in the number of non-career executives allowed in a particular department or agency (See the Report and Recommendations of the National Commission on the Public Service, 1989, p. 19).

By allowing career executives to fill more of these positions, two things could happen. First, the President, and his other top leaders, would have an excellent source of administrative professionalism and experience. Second, subunit power may be enhanced (and in turn, improve the commitment of executives, according to these findings). Subunit power would increase as a result of career executives’ increase in network centrality. In such positions, executives would acquire vital information and political associations, as well as higher-level policy experiences, which would greatly enhance the power of their subunits. (One’s structural position in an organization can be one great source of power). As previously mentioned, Pfeffer (1981) argued that one’s structural position in an organization provides access to people, information, and financial resources (budgets), i.e., the necessary “tools” to successfully influence and/or implement policy.

In conclusion, this research provided empirical support for the effects of team power, good leader-member relations, and political control on the commitment levels of top executives in the federal government. The important question here concerns the external validity of these relationships. Would these variables influence the commitment levels of persons in organizations in which the work itself does not involve the implementation of public policy, e.g., in the private sector? In part, the operationalization of the political control variable, and its relationship to organizational commitment may be unique to this research. It is reasonable to predict, however, that subunit power, leadership behavior, and arbitrary personnel practices would affect the organizational commitment of those in the private sector, also, i.e., in situations where the workers are not involve in the implementation of public policy. Elaborations, support and/or challenges relative to the theories of power and politics as determinants of commitment are encouraged and welcomed.


1. The author acknowledges the assistance of the U.S. General Accounting Office in drawing the sample to whom the survey questionnaire was sent. Attribute and statistical sampling were both used to determine the sample size. A mathematical equation was used to determine the sample size (n) for each department/agency. (One solved the equation for n to derive the sample size for each stratum.) Mathematically, the equation is written:

E = t [square root of] pq/n(1 = n/N)

where: t = the confidence level which was 1.96 (95% confidence level);

n = the sample size in each department/agency;

N = the actual number of SES members in the department/agency;

p = .5 (the estimate rate of occurrence of a particular attribute and yields the largest sample size within each department/agency);

q = .5 (1 minus p);

E = the tolerable error of the estimate rate of occurrence.

2. The items which comprised this measurement were taken from a study of the attitudes of senior executives who left their positions during the 1983-1988 calendar years, conducted by the Merit Systems Protection Board (See “Survey of Former Senior Executive Service Members”, 1989).

3. These three objectives were taken directly from the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act.


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