How politicians use performance information in a budgetary context: New insights from the central government level

AuthorSanja Korac,Birgit Moser,Iris Saliterer,Paolo Rondo‐Brovetto
Published date01 December 2019
Date01 December 2019
How politicians use performance information in a
budgetary context: New insights from the central
government level
Iris Saliterer
| Sanja Korac
| Birgit Moser
Paolo Rondo-Brovetto
Department of Public and Nonprofit
Management, Albert Ludwig University of
Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany
Department of Public Management,
University of Klagenfurt, Klagenfurt, Austria
Department of Public, Nonprofit & Health
Management, University of Klagenfurt,
Klagenfurt, Austria
Iris Saliterer, Department of Public and
Nonprofit Management, Albert Ludwig
University of Freiburg, Belfortstraße
20, 79085 Freiburg, Germany.
Funding information
Öesterreichische Nationalbank, Grant/Award
Number: 16005
This article looks at performance information use by legisla-
tors at the central level in a budgetary context. The multi-
method approach (interviews, quantitative and qualitative
analysis of plenary speeches given during budget readings)
allows us to draw a broader picture of the use of perfor-
mance information. The findings provide new insights into
different purposes of performance information use. We
identify four general use types, that is, de-legitimizing, legiti-
mizing, improving and understanding, and deflecting, which
together with the subjects addressed blend into different
use purposes. Second, the study sheds light onto different
factors affecting performance information use, that is, the
attributes of users of performance information, the proper-
ties of performance, and the role of institutional support.
Efforts to introduce a stronger performance orientation in budgeting processes by providing richer information to
decision-makers already date back to the early twentieth century (Joyce 2003; Jones and McCaffery 2010; Ho
2018). However, it was the introduction of NPM reforms that spurred the systematic integration of performance
information into budget documents throughout the world, the peak of which can be identified in the early 2000s
(Joyce and Sieg 2000; Ho 2018; Saliterer et al. 2018).
Holding the power of the purse, politicians are often seen as key addressees of performance information and
have therefore regularly been in the spotlight of public budgeting research (Joyce and Sieg 2000; Lu et al. 2015). In
the United States, in particular, there has been a longstanding scholarly interest in exploring the use of performance
Received: 28 October 2018 Revised: 24 February 2019 Accepted: 21 April 2019
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12604
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© 2019 The Authors. Public Administration published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Public Administration. 2019;97:829844. 829
information by legislators during budget appropriation (Joyce 2003). In light of evidence predominantly suggesting
that legislators rarely use performance information to make resource allocation decisions (e.g., Joyce and Tompkins
2002; GAO 2005; Bourdeaux 2008; Frisco and Stalebrink 2008; Heinrich 2011), contributions have repeatedly
supported the early warning that economic rationality is not likely to (and should not) displace political rationality in
a budgeting context (Wildavsky 1961; see also Moynihan 2006; Heinrich 2011; Ho 2018). This lack of, or rare use
of, performance information is also shown by the very few empirical studies in other country contexts (OECD 2003;
Raudla 2012; Grossi et al. 2016).
However, as most contributions in the field have, either explicitly or implicitly, focused on exploring the existence
as well as the extent of an instrumental, that is, economic-rational use, little is yet known about different types of
performance information use by legislators during budget appropriations or budget approval (see Pollitt 2006;
Moynihan 2016; van Helden 2016; with regard to political use).
The present article seeks to address this gap by analysing how politicians (i.e., legislators) use performance infor-
mation (see Moynihan 2006). Looking specifically at the budget approval phase, the study addresses a highly politi-
cized context where different types and purposes of performance information use are expected to unfold. Applying
a multi-method approach, we explore performance information use (level of use and use purposes) by legislators at
the central level in Austria, and shed light on factors influencing the latter: (1) the attributes of users of performance
information (insider/outsider, government/opposition), (2) the properties of performance information (relevance,
appropriateness), and (3) the role of institutional support (intermediaries, budget committees).
The article is organized as follows. The next section provides a review of the extant literature on performance
information use by politicians (i.e., legislators) in the budgeting process. Section three looks into the factors affecting
the latter and presents the conceptual framework that guides the empirical analysis. Section four gives a brief over-
view of the Austrian budgeting and accounting reform that brought about performance-informed budgeting. Data
and methods are presented in section five, and the results are provided in section six. The last section provides the
discussion and conclusion, and illustrates implications as well as further research avenues.
Extant research on performance information use by politicians during budget approval tends to assume an instru-
mental use, that is, an economic-rational use of performance information to support or change decisions on resource
allocation (Joyce 1993; Moynihan 2006; Pollitt 2006). Although the majority of the results showed that performance
information was rarely used, and that performance information use had only a marginal impact on resource allocation
(e.g., Lauth 1985; Melkers and Willoughby 2001; Joyce and Tompkins 2002; Gilmour and Lewis 2006; Sterck 2007;
Bourdeaux 2008; Raudla 2012; Grossi et al. 2016), at the same time, the notion that performance information is an
(important) informational input to the legislative budgeting process has been upheld (see Ho 2018).
Taking a contrasting view, Moynihan (2006, 2008) has therefore suggested that, in becoming part of the political
dialogue, performance information may play a less technical role (Burchell et al. 1980) and is likely to be used selec-
tively and strategically (Moynihan 2006) for purposes other than the search for improved economic-rational driven
decision-making (see Joyce 1993; Ho 2018). Along these lines, Moynihan (2009), for instance, puts forward political
uses of performance information (in terms of advocacy), and other scholars show that politicians use performance
information to seek external approval and legitimacy, to (ex-post) rationalize or justify (legitimize), but also to de-
legitimize actions and decisions (see Giacomini et al. 2016).
Taking into account this variety of use purposes may be particularly worthwhile when exploring legislatorsuse
of performance information in the budget approval phasea context where competing demands, mutual relation-
ships between legislators and the executive branch, as well as political conflict over the allocation of resources are
likely to surface (Giacomini et al. 2016; Grossi et al. 2016; van Helden 2016). As attempts to empirically identify and

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