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Trading Speed for Accuracy? Managing Goal Conflict and Accommodation in the U.S. Unemployment Insurance Program



Public managers must often cope with competing and conflicting goals. The common formulation is to assume that managers must trade-off goals against each other. But is this always true? An alternative hypothesis is that sometimes managers may instead be able to improve outcomes on multiple goals simultaneously—by altering management practices. We test this “trade-off” notion using a panel of state-level administrative data from the U.S. unemployment insurance (UI) system from 1997 to 2004 and qualitative interviews from selected states. The trade-off examined is timeliness of UI benefit payments versus the quality of UI determinations. In general, we find that state administrators often adopt management practices that facilitate improved outcomes for both timeliness and quality, indicating no trade-off but instead a synergy between outcomes. We also find evidence of a feedback effect linking higher performance on timeliness to better quality determinations.