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.
The notion of an accountability deficit is particularly associated with the absence of political control by democratically elected political representatives (where it is linked with a democracy deficit). The main sites for such a deficit are international relations, decoupling of responsibility for public services, and networked governance. Analysis of the deficit has prompted emphasis on alternative accountability mechanics as well as alternative definitions of “accountability” itself. To be useful, the concept should be widened beyond political control to include possible deficits in any type of accountability. Any claim to a particular accountability deficit needs to be made against a standard or yardstick of that type of accountability without the deficit. The normative implications of any particular deficit should also be made explicit, given that in some circumstances, such as accountability “overload”, a reduction in accountability can be viewed positively.
B. Guy Peters
Reconciling the permanence and expertise of the public bureaucracy with political control is a persistent problem in democracies. Accountability is an increasingly complex and difficult concept for public administration, and also becomes more difficult to ensure in an era of government reform. A key issue regarding accountability in public administration revolves around the tension between the “neutral competence” and “responsive competence” of civil servants. Accountability is pursued with an increasing number of instruments which reflect a move away from “command and control” toward softer and more collaborative instruments. In addition to traditional hierarchical instruments of accountability, newer instruments of accountability build on mutuality, competition and contrived randomness (Hood et al).
Accountability overload results from uncoordinated efforts to assure accountability with disregard of the opportunity cost. In the public sector there are many incentives to add new arrangements to assure accountability, such as political symbolism. In the age of government austerity, however, the cost versus the economic value of avoidable mistakes, cannot be ignored anymore. The quest for accountability at all costs leads to organizational pathologies that reduce efficiency, effectiveness, responsiveness and innovations. Other reasons for accountability overloads are the temptation to reduce officials’ possible unwillingness to be held accountable and efforts within the organization to address informal accountability expectations. Dynamic accountability, greater transparency, information technology, and a shift from governing to governance may reduce accountability overloads.
This chapter examines international debates over civil service accountability. It begins with early twentieth-century theories of state forms of politically neutral public accountability from the bureaucracy to the political executive. It ends with multiple forms of accountability within and outside of government reflecting international experience about the limits of any one single model of civil service accountability. The bulk of the chapter maps out the many analytical frameworks now being used to measure civil service accountability. Analysts have been engaged in important academic and policy debates over the competing merits of many forms of accountability, including social accountability and whistle blowing. The chapter examines the leading analytical versions which attempt to balance the harms minimized by systemic accountability with the benefits promoted through official responsibility for greater official discretion. There is no magic solution, reflecting that civil servants themselves have no preferred model of accountability.
Jonathan G. S. Koppell
Governance is about creating processes and structures that constrain and regulate behavior. There is a wide variety of global governance organizations. Global governance organizations have an impact on a vast number of lives, but they are not guided by the legal, political and organizational rules that govern democratic domestic governance organizations. Accountability in global governance is really about legitimacy. Global governance organizations need to be able to clarify why they can define global rules of the game? For global governance organizations, being accountable means one (or more) of five things: transparency, liability, controllability, responsibility and responsiveness. The combination of these expectations easily culminates in organizational tensions.
The demand for more accountable international relations is really a demand for greater legitimacy. While many transnational actors are highly accountable, they lack legitimacy because they are not democratically accountable. Recent innovations in the theory and practice of accountability suggest that accountability to democratic standards can provide greater legitimacy for transnational actors and international relations without requiring the replication of democratic mechanisms of accountability globally.
Erik-Hans Klijn and Joop F.M. Koppenjan
If public policies and services are decided upon and delivered in networks comprised of various parties from within and outside government, accountability often is seen as problematic. Traditional accountability mechanisms by which politicians, administrators, and civil servants are held accountable for their behavior and performance become problematic because of the interdependencies, complexities, and dynamics that characterize processes within governance networks. Furthermore, in such networks, accountability is complicated by the diverse mechanisms and standards necessarily introduced by the inclusion of parties from different organizations and domains. This chapter discusses how traditional forms of accountability within government relate to accountability processes in governance networks, identifies the main problems of accountability in governance networks, and suggests ways to redesign and enhance accountability in networks.
Barbara S. Romzek
This chapter reviews accountability issues that arise in service delivery, including traditional direct delivery as well as delivery through contracts, partnerships, intergovernmental collaborations and networks. Each of these delivery arrangements has elements of both formal accountability structures and informal accountability dynamics which present opportunities and challenges to effective accountability. The review identifies the key challenges to accountability that are typical for each of the various delivery strategies and offers several best practices that can mitigate, if not completely eliminate, challenges to effective accountability.
Christie Hayne and Steven E. Salterio
This chapter outlines the sources of public accountability in financial accounting practices and how public accounting (i.e., auditing) attempts to ensure financial accounts are trustworthy. External parties often have limited powers to compel managers to reveal financial information, and so laws and regulations require managers to account for the resources entrusted to them. The chapter also examines the demands for accounts beyond the financial to a broader range of subject matters such as environmental accounting and corporate social responsibility reporting. The chapter looks at the macro roles of financial statements and other accounts as acts of public accountability as well as the micro roles of accountability practices and pressures on individuals involved in attesting to these accounts as being “true and fair.”
This chapter contains an analysis of Swedish administrative reform from the mid-1970s until today. It shows that Sweden has embraced most New Public Management ideas. Regarding management ideas Sweden was an early mover, whereas the neoliberal part of the NPM package took root quite late, from around 1990. In recent years Sweden has also embraced some “post-NPM” ideas. The chapter shows that the development partly can be understood as rational problem-solving. However, there are also observations supporting the argument that the development partly should be understood as rule-following and partly in terms of a path dependency. Regarding effects, critics argue that the reforms have brought about a more fragmented state, created a low-trust culture, made the pubic officials more silent, and generated paperwork which precludes the agencies from carrying out their ordinary work.