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date: 23 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

The fundamental feature of hierarchical accountability is the delegation of authority from superior to subordinate and commensurate accountability from subordinate to superior. While hierarchy is not a unique feature of public bureaucracies, contemporary systems of democratic governance and administration rely extensively on delegation. Although specific delegation practices differ across, and within, parliamentary or presidential systems, the result is a central chain running from citizens to elected and appointed officials to those civil servants who support public policy development and implementation. In this way, hierarchy crystalizes responsibility on a single accountable individual or organization for the performance of a task or tasks. The legitimacy to hold to account—to scrutinize, pass judgment and levy sanctions or rewards—derives from the direct authority a superior holds over subordinate actors. Given the number of different hierarchical relationships that exist within democratic governments, it is no surprise there is a range of variations of this accountability mechanism. This chapter seeks to further our understanding of hierarchy as a mechanism of accountability, reviewing the fundamental nature of hierarchical accountability, its treatment in the literature, some specific institutional arrangements of this mechanism and to assess its strengths and weaknesses.

Keywords: hierarchy, accountability, delegation, democracy, governance, presidential system, parliamentary system, civil service, elections, performance management

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