This chapter comments on Aaron Wildavsky’s seminal work, The Politics of the Budgetary Process, an in-depth look at the norms and rules of budgeting in the United States and the stable patterns of interaction between the various actors involved. Considered a classic of public administration scholarship, the book uses a simple yet fundamental theoretical framework for analyzing budgetary decisions. After summarizing the basic elements of Wildavsky’s theory of budgetary incrementalism, the chapter discusses challenges to incrementalism that arose mainly in the context of economic and fiscal crisis that influenced the way the federal government made budgetary decisions. It then considers the relevance and importance of Wildavsky’s work on the politics of the budgetary process by highlighting several elements that have had profound implications for scholarship on budgeting.
Johan P. Olsen
Ambiguity is intrinsic to life. Yet, mainstream accountability theory reduces its area of application by not taking ambiguity seriously. The literature treats too many aspects as exogenous to politics and is unlikely to capture accountability dynamics in contemporary representative democracies in transformation, including the European Union. Theorizing accountability requires going beyond predetermined principals and agents, detecting deviance from authoritative orders and rules, and disciplining unruly agents. An institutional perspective is offered, relaxing assumptions regarding what accountability means and implies; what is involved in demanding, rendering, assessing and responding to accounts; what factors foster effective accountability; and how accountability regimes emerge and change. The fluidity and unresolved conflicts of political life make it difficult to correctly assign causal responsibility and to learn from experience. Accountability processes, nevertheless, provide occasions for searching for and testing collective purpose, intelligence, meaning and political equality, as part of institutionalization and de-institutionalization processes.
This chapter advances three claims. First, it argues that the concepts of accountability and blame-avoidance have much in common and can be understood as mirror-image concepts for the “sanction-imposing” sense of accountability and the sense of blame avoidance that denotes outcome rather than activity. Second, it argues that there are different ways of conceiving and defining both concepts in their respective analytic literatures, and the mirror-image relationship tends to disappear once we move to those alternatives, particularly of accountability conceived as answerability and blame-avoidance conceived as activity rather than outcome. Third, it argues that cultural theory analysis can identify variants of both accountability and blame-avoidance which can deepen understanding of both the mirror-image aspects of the two phenomena and of relationships between them that go beyond a mirror-image.
Mark E. Warren
Democracy, rule of the people, is comprised of complex webs of accountabilities between people and those who use power to govern on their behalf. Democratic accountability is comprised of justifications for these uses of power, combined with distributions of empowerments in such a way that those affected can sanction its use. Key problems for democracies include forming principals and agents among whom accountability relations might hold, designing institutions that limit costs of accountability mechanisms so they can be used by citizens, and developing forms of accountability that match the increasing scale and complexity of political issues and organizations.
This chapter first presents the major characteristics of multi-level governance and gives examples thereof from the European and the transnational level. It then identifies a number of properties of multi-level governance networks that can cause prejudice to their democratic “anchorage”: the widespread cooperative logic of interactions within networks, the weak visibility of networks due to their frequent lack of formalization, their loose coupling with the representative circuit, the lack of public accountability of some network actors (e.g., private interests), and the prevalence of “interdependence” accountability among network members. The chapter concludes that, in multi-level governance, there is a risk of the exercise of political power being divorced from democratic accountability and that accountable multi-level governance should not be equated with democratic government.
This chapter links the rise of public accountability to the wave of New Public Management (NPM) reforms. It argues that the relationship between increased managerial accountability and performance is contested and it is becoming increasingly clear that we have to operate with a multi-dimensional accountability concept going beyond hierarchical accountability. The chapter discusses tensions and dilemmas in the relationship between NPM and accountability, the volatile relationship between accountability and performance, and the ambiguities and appropriateness of accountability under NPM. It also addresses accountability in relation to post-NPM reforms and challenges for future research.
Principal-agent theory encapsulates a tradition of rational choice modeling in which some actor(s)—the principal(s)—uses whatever actions are available to provide incentives for some other actor(s)—the agent(s)—to make decisions that the principal most prefers. Because principal-agent theory focuses on the responsiveness of the agent’s decisions to the principal’s goals, and how this responsiveness is mediated by actions available to each actor as well as institutional settings in which they interact, it is a natural framework to study accountability in political institutions. This essay gives a basic overview of principal-agent theory and briefly reviews its application in two domains of political science: bureaucratic accountability to higher-level political actors, and electoral accountability of representatives to constituents. The essay emphasizes that principal-agent theory is in fact a highly flexible family of models, rather than an overarching set of assumptions and results.
Jerry L. Mashaw
This chapter puts the issue of time on the accountability studies agenda. It argues that time is a crucial consideration in the design of accountable institutions. But it also claims that while time adds to uncertainty, complexity, and normative ambiguity in decision-making, time does not defeat accountability even in extreme cases such as accountability for historic injustices and responsibility for intergenerational equity.
In the past decades we have witnessed an increase of public accountability obligations while trust in the public sector has become more volatile. Based on a literature review, different notions of trust are identified. This includes a review of trust enablers for the public sector as well as a presentation of different types of public trust. In the following the relationship between public accountability and trust is analyzed. Whenever possible, empirical findings are included. As trust and public accountability are elusive concepts the relationship between both is far from straightforward in New Public Management and Public Governance.
Melvin J. Dubnick
This chapter examines the emergence of accountability as a culturally significant concept that both reflects and shapes changes taking place in our understanding of contemporary governance. Dubnick explores how its emergence as a “cultural keyword” has transformed both the form and function of accountability, and the challenges this development poses for the study of accountable governance.