Title: Owed Work Ahead: PSM, CSR, and the Deconstruction of Davis-Bacon Noncompliance in Transportation Contracting
Program: Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy and Administration
Advisor: Dr. Ana-Maria Dimand, School of Public Service
Committee Members: Dr. Luke Fowler, School of Public Service; and Dr. Jeff Lingwall, Economics
Noncompliance with the Davis-Bacon Act (1931)—the accidental or intentional disregard of a federal prevailing wage law—is among the most unethical crimes committed against a business’s own workforce. With the threat of sanctions unpersuasive to preventing fraud, a more forbearing eye may be required to understand the understudied construction companies pressed to ‘serve two masters’ in public-private partnerships. This dissertation uses nested data from 26,903 highway and bridge construction- and construction-adjacent firms, funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and contracted by 28 state Departments of Transportation between 2010-2019, to answer the overall question: do firms that feel like government comply with government? This data is used to perform a macro-level (national) negative binominal regression determining the scope and impact of Davis-Bacon noncompliance on vulnerable (i.e., female and minority) workers, revealing how unstandardized data collection methodologies risk worker discrimination by wage theft, especially those identifying as Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native Hawaiian; a meso-level (organizational) mixed-method comparative analysis of 4,580 of these contractors’ online mission statements with corporate social responsibility (CSR) and public service motivation (PSM) principles, identifying underexplored mutual solutions; and finally, a micro-level (individual) survey deploying Perry’s (1996) four-dimension, 24 Likert-item scale among 160 of these firms’ employees using a logistic regression model, isolating an unexpected relationship between employees’ Other-regarding sympathy and their firms’ compliance status. The findings presented bring the humdrum concept of “compliance” to life by illustrating its direct effects on the lives of vulnerable workers; establish how PSM is presented and measured—or isn’t—by traditional research methods; connect public service to protecting the public interest through compliant behavior; and offer ways in which all parties in public-private partnerships can prevent the 92 year-old Davis-Bacon Act from circling back to its controversial origins, putting an end to a woeful paradox in which vulnerable workers build the infrastructure system whose upkeep marginalizes them.