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Articles such as Considine (2002) and Kluvers & Tippett (2011) detail the importance of accountability in governance and how it is an integral aspect in establishing proper public management and policy networks. It is quite interesting to note though that traditional public management as well as new public management have different views and criticisms on how accountability should be applied in the field of governance.
For example, in traditional public management accountability is thought of as a type of formal and hierarchical framework from which managers within their respective departments comply with a set format of rules, regulations and standards of conduct.
However, as described by Wood (2004) in his examination of accountability in traditional public management, this type of accountability often results in “slow systems” wherein in their desire to comply with set standards of accountability managers actually fail to implement discretionary measures to “get the job done” so to speak which results in an unwieldy system of governance (Wood, 2004: 1-30).
Researchers such as Considine (2002) who examined accountability in public management even point out that “…too much of it can clog up the works, diverting resources and opening organizations to perverse pressures” (Considine, 2002: 21-40). It is based on these different accounts of what accountability consists of that it is necessary to determine how accountability is applied differently in different methods of public management.
The purpose of this essay to is to analyze the various changes that occur in public accountability. This ranges from examining traditional public administration, to going over network governance and finally to briefly elaborating on new public management.
This essay is divided into four main sections: an initial section that will examine the theoretical aspects of public accountability, after which it will delve into the 3 models of public administration in which the differences in the three models in terms of accountability will be explained and lastly this paper will attempt to demonstrate public accountability in network governance.
This paper will help to reveal how too much accountability in traditional public management and policy networks can “clog the works” as stated by Considine (2002) and to what extent should accountability be applied to avoid stagnation due to fear and hesitance or to prevent abuse as a direct result of too much freedom.
What are the theoretical aspects of public accountability?
It is interesting to note that the concept of accountability is considered an important aspect of any government entity. The reason behind this is quite simple; it acts as an integral facilitator of the relationship between the government and ordinary citizens since it holds public officials accountable for their actions (Alford & Hughes, 2008).
Studies such as those by Martin & Halachmi (2012) explain that public accountability should be considered a hallmark of effective governance since without it, it is likely that government bureaucracy could fall into a state where it becomes omnipotent and innately corrupt (Martin & Halachmi, 2012: 189-23).
According to studies such as those by Kluvers & Tippett (2011), the concept of accountability should not be interchanged with that of responsibility (Kluvers & Tippett, 2011: 3-9). Responsibility is considered the manner in which a manager or department head is responsible for the actions of their employees to a certain degree.
This does not mean that they are liable for all errors committed; rather, they are responsible for actions committed which are done in the line of duty. In the case of accountability this takes the form of being accountable for the success or failure of particular programs based on their performance (Koliba et al., 2011: 210-220).
A manager cannot simply offset the blame towards his/her subordinates; rather, regardless of errors committed that manager/official was still liable for the aftereffects of the program and should face the consequences of such actions (Koliba et al., 2011: 210-220).
A working culture is defined as the set of organization traits and practices that employees follow within a given business environment. As such their actions, practices and goals are all determined by the working culture by which they adhere their actions to. What must be understood is that different working cultures promote various types of behaviors within their employees one of them is the idea that they are accountable for their actions (Pennington, 2009: 146-150).
As stated by Samaratunge, Alam & Teicher (2008), public accountability it is meant to invoke a sense of reliability, loyalty, justice and trust between the public and the official in charge (Samaratunge, Alam & Teicher, 2008: 101-126). By being accountable for one’s actions, this ensures the public that those in charge of the “public good” are doing so based on the awareness that their actions will be judged with the official being liable for the end result, whether good or bad.
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In order to understand more about this concept, it is necessary to understand how accountability is divided in the present Samaratunge, Alam & Teicher (2008). Through the study of Chan & Rosenbloom (2010), accountability is divided into 4 distinct types, namely:
In the case of political and professional accountability, it is important to note that these grant a greater degree of autonomy wherein public officials are allowed more “leeway” in terms of discretionary measures that can be utilized in order to pursue particular tasks (Chan & Rosenbloom, 2010: 21-33).
This is particularly important to take into consideration since studies such as Kluvers & Tippett (2011) explain that when it came to public management overly strict accountability checks on governments often led to a degree of hesitance in developing new policies and public management strategies which resulted in a complacent or even stagnant form of governance (Kluvers & Tippett, 2011: 519-527).
In such cases, officials were often too hesitant or fearful in performing particular duties or establishing particular reforms due to the burden of accountability. This was noted when it came to hierarchical and legal accountability wherein there were more “checks” when it came to performing particular actions which resulted in an active discouragement of discretionary measures in public management.
In the case of new public management such limitations were apparently addressed by freeing officials within the government to a certain extent to allow them the freedom to better manage policies, strategies and employees to make their system of public management more effective (Alford & Hughes, 2008:148.
One iteration of this came in the form of privatization of functions that were originally within the domain of government departments (Kluvers & Tippett, 2012: 519-527). Other forms of accountability as expressed by Burns & Zhou (2010) include organizational accountability, individual accountability, collective accountability and corporate accountability (Burns & Zhou, 2010: 7-34).
Basically, what these forms of accountability emphasized when it came to public management was that as a result of various government officials and employees being entrusted with tax payer money in order to provide particular services, they in turn have the obligation to utilize these funds in a proper manner and in effect be accountable for doing so.
It is based on this that when officials and employees violate the sanctity of this trust that they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Another aspect of accountability that should be taken into consideration is the concept of an organization’s accountability to perform. As stated by Demirag & Khadaroo (2011) government institutions are accountable to the general public in being able to provision the benefits and services that they are being paid to accomplish (Demirag & Khadaroo, 2011: 271-296).
This creates the needs to establish particular objectives, goals, metrics and bench-marks that are needed in order to ensure that governments are well aware of the necessity of reaching these particular goals in order to stay true to their accountability to the general public (Demirag & Khadaroo, 2011: 271-296 ).
Clear evidence of a violation of government accountability to performance was noted in the case of the political culture within the U.S. involving the tempestuous relationship between Republicans and Democrats. During the decision to raise the debt ceiling (2011 – 2012), it was the adversarial political culture between the two parties that stalled the necessary decision to raise the debt ceiling to such an extent that Standard and Poor actually downgraded the investment grade status of the U.S. as a result.
By the beginning of 2012 public perception regarding the continued effectiveness of the U.S. government significantly waned given that the sheer lack of accountability to perform that was displayed.
Examining Accountability in Traditional Public Administration
As explained earlier, accountability in traditional public administration is seen through the lens of political and democratic accountability. In such cases government officials and employees are held accountable to the general population by way of the popular vote. This means that those in the civil service are accountable to the country’s citizens by way of the politicians that they serve.
It should be noted though that there are distinct problems with the TPA model involving accountability (Heinrich, 2002: 712-725). First and foremost, while politicians are held accountable by the general public for the failure of particular projects or policies, the administrators of such projects are at times not held liable for failure despite their intimate role in the project’s/policy’s inception and execution.
Another problem with the TPA model of accountability comes in the form of its emphasis on capturing mistakes rather than showing achievements. In such cases, politicians and administrators often to follow the past of least resistance in enacting certain projects or policies.
In this regard the hesitance seen among the members reveals the unwillingness to commit mistakes since it is often the mistakes rather than the achievements that are the primary focus of the TPA accountability model. This results in the same problems described by Considine (2002) who examined accountability in public management wherein he stated that “…too much accountability can clog up the works, diverting resources and opening organizations to perverse pressures” (Considine, 2002: 21-40).
The TPA model involving accountability helps to reduce the amount of mistakes made through greater supervision of actions due to the liability of politicians towards the actions of their subordinates, the fact remains that this results in a slower form of public management.
In the examination of Humphrey & Miller (2012) on accountability practices, Humphrey and Miller attempted to determine the impact of accountability on public management, they were able to reveal that less accountability resulted in a more efficient system of governance since this allowed officials to pursue results rather than specifically focus on the procedures involving the financial and legal aspects of public management (Humphrey & Miller, 2012: 295-327).
Examining Accountability in New Public Management
Based on the work of Wimbush (2011) which examine the new public management model of accountability, citizens are viewed as customers with public officials being the managers ensuring that these “customers” are satisfied with the services that they are being given (Wimbush, 2011: 211-218).
In the case of the NPM model of accountability, managers (i.e. public officials) shifted the focus more towards improving the relationship between the government and the citizenry as compared to the previous model which focused more on developing a more hierarchical process of accountability (Ospina, Grau & Zaltsman, 2004: 229-251).
In this case the bureaucracy of accountability was shifted towards the side of the citizens wherein they, as consumers of the services of the government, are better positioned to be evaluators of public agencies. The main different between the NPM model and the TPA model of accountability is that the latter is actually considered inefficiently due to the way in which it focuses on the control of expenditure rather than the actual outcome of a policy or project.
As explained by Zapico-Goñi (2007) such a form of governance rarely achieved sufficient results given the level of stagnation brought about by hesitance to operate beyond indicated guidelines as a direct result of accountability (Zapico-Goñi, 2007: 421-438). One of the most notable differences between the accountability models is the fact that the NPM model focuses on performance accountability wherein the measurement of performance involving the implementation of policies and the use of resources is the focus rather than accountability for mistakes made found in the TPA model.
It is actually due to this focus on performance rather than the avoidance of mistakes that makes the NPM model superior to a certain extent as compared to the TPA model since it encourages action rather than complacency. Studies such as those by Hildebrand & McDavid (2011) have even stated that through the NPM model, public management improved significantly as a result of a greater government predilection towards creating and establishing new projects and policies meant to assist the general public (Hildebrand & McDavid, 2011: 41-72).
The last difference between the two models comes in the form of a shift towards allocating accountability towards the private sector when it is utilized in government projects and public services (Narayanan et al., 2007: 37-65).
However, despite the apparent effectiveness of accountability due to the shift to new public management, there are still issues that need to be addressed such as whether the current form of accountability within new public management is actually more effective than traditional public management or if the freedoms found in the new system cause more problems than they actually solve.
This is not to say that accountability should be removed from the formula of governance, far from it, accountability to one’s superiors and ultimately to the general public is an essential aspect for governance for without it the likelihood for abuse or mismanagement exists.
Accountability in Network Governance
In the network governance model, accountability becomes more horizontal rather than vertical wherein the utilization of various public agencies to help the government better understand the needs of the people resulted in the creation of “public value” wherein the government attempted to develop an effective and active relationship with the local citizenry (Brodkin, 2008: 317-336).
As a result, the NG model combines the cooperation and combination of the public and private sectors in order to achieve the results the government desires. A better way of seeing the impact of accountability in the network governance model is to look at it from the point of view of its decentralized nature.
With various sectors and component agencies constituting this particular model, there is no centralized structure that “dictates” actions wherein each agency or sector is able to act based on what they perceive to be the most appropriate form of action at the time.
This is considerably different to the hierarchical model seen in traditional public management wherein its top down structure ensured that those at the top found themselves accountable and liable for the actions of those at the bottom thereby resulted in an increased level of supervision and limitation on individual initiatives.
The end result is that the network governance model of accountability, just like the new public management model of accountability, allows government officials to better respond to the needs of the general public without letting the intricacies of accountability mixed with bureaucracy impede their actions.
Based on the various facts and arguments that have been presented in this paper so far, I have come to the conclusion that there is an insufficient degree of independent checks and balances system in the current accountability frameworks of governance that have been talked about.
The basis behind a check and balances process is to ensure that one facet of an organization does not become “supreme” in that based on a system of regulation one branch of a particular organization can regulate the other.
The concept of accountability is actually the basis of this particular process since without a system of regulation where one branch limits the other the possibility of actions without regard to possible accountability is a definite danger that could happen.
In the case of a successful organization a proper checks and balances process will be composed of several departments being limited in their action by other department with each aspect of the process having a certain degree of accountability. For example in the case of the healthcare industry doctors are held in check by healthcare providers by ensuring that only necessary tests are done to the patient in order to minimize the possibility of extra expenditure.
It is true that government officials should be held accountable to their actions, however, the fact remains that with the earlier example of the U.S. and its debt ceiling shown, in the current system, despite the fact that it has been greatly improved since its previous iteration is is still lacking in sufficient checks and balances to ensure that public management is done based on a solid belief in accountability for actions that are done or not accomplished at all.
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