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The New Public Management & its Legacy

Accountability is the focus of the Spring 2000 issue of the International Review of Administrative Sciences. As explained below, accountability is a central and enduring concern in public administration that has taken on new life and new importance as a result of recent public service reforms. Note also that this issue of the Review, in its Dialogue section, contains a thought-provoking article on several unconventional theses about community participation and a debate on administrative science, political science and bureaucratic corruption.

The guest editor of the papers on accountability (Adam Wolf, Ministry of Finance, Denmark) examines the debate over the meaning and implementation of so-called "new public management." He argues that after years of reform focused on improving efficiency and responsiveness in public administration, there may be good reasons to consider how some aspects of public administration (e.g., accountability), which have not received due attention, should influence reform efforts in the new millennium.

In response to the argument that accountability and performance measurement pull in opposite directions, Peter Aucoin and Ralph Heintzman contend that accountability can, and should, be a major force for improving performance. They distinguish among three different purposes of accountability in public administration: the control of abuse, the assurance of well-performing public organizations, and the promotion of learning in pursuit of continuous improvement in governance and public management. They conclude that the controlling aspect of accountability will always reappear when something goes wrong, and that the real challenge is managing the tensions between the three aspects of accountability.

These tensions are indirectly reflected in the case study of "The New Hong Kong International Airport Fiasco" by Eliza Wing-Yee Lee. Professor Lee’s study shows that one size does not fit all in designing accountability mechanisms. It confirms the hypothesis that we have to determine institutional design, including the precise balance between control, assurance and learning aspects of accountability, on the basis of the specific tasks and the specific institutional context confronting us.

The tension between accountability and reform is also examined by Barbara Romzek who distinguishes between internal and external sources of control, where the internal sources are the hierarchical (according a low degree of autonomy to lower levels) and the professional (according a high degree of autonomy). The external sources are the legal (low degree of autonomy) and the political (high autonomy). Reform will often involve a shift in emphasis among different types of accountability leading to a higher risk of confusing or conflicting expectations. One of the lessons of Romzek’s study is that reform must engage external as well as internal sources of control and expectations.

Jeremy Lonsdale, in his study of "Developments in Value for Money Audit Methods," notes evidence of a broadening of the traditional control institutions of state audit institutions to include such mechanisms as output and performance evaluation, and consultation with users. Indirectly, Lonsdale confirms that there is an increased risk of conflicting expectations in times of reform. He concludes by asking whether and how the role of these institutions can ever be reconciled with a more collaborative approach to performance improvement.

Kenneth Kernaghan addresses the implications of reform for public sector values in general and accountability in particular. He illustrates how different reform efforts have created value concerns, including ethical concerns resulting from the use of public-private partnerships. He argues that the value consequences of public management reform should always be assessed and that a statement of key values for the public service as a whole and for individual public organizations can facilitate this assessment.

The ethical consequences of reform are highlighted in a case study by Leon Bertrand Ngouo on the role and responsibility of external consultants in the structural adjustment programs of Sub-Saharan Africa. These consultants play a major role in transforming the public sector in many developing countries, but they bring with them a specific cultural and social background foreign to the host country. Furthermore, they often leave behind them an accountability gap with nobody to take full responsibility for their actions.

Les Metcalfe examines questions of accountability within the broader frame of his argument that the debate about globalization often poses a false dichotomy between international markets and national governments. He uses a case study of the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products to show how an apparently successful integration of administrative, political, professional and client-oriented accountability relations is possible in the context of a European institution which deliberately sees itself as an international governance network.

Adam Wolf concludes that there is a need to reinvent specific accountability institutions and relationships as we reinvent government; that a task for future research will be to broaden the concept of accountability in several dimensions; and that accountability is a precondition for trust in government and true democracy.


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