Performance or Compliance? Performance Audit and Public Management in Five Countries

Performance or Compliance? Performance Audit and Public Management in Five Countries

Performance or Compliance? Performance Audit and Public Management in Five Countries

Performance or Compliance? Performance Audit and Public Management in Five Countries


Performance audit, as practised by national audit offices, is a relatively recent and rapidly developing set of activities. Auditors claim to have moved beyond issues of compliance and regularity and to be able directly to investigate the efficiency and effectiveness of public programmes, projects, and institutions. These are developments with considerable implications for both democratic accountablility and managerial efficiency. Until now they have received little independent scrutiny, but in this book an international team of researchers analyses the growth of performance audit in five countries: France, Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK. It is argued that audit offices face a series of strategic choices, and that in different countries they have thus far chosen somewhat different trajectories.


Performance audit involves assessing whether government policies, programmes, and institutions are well managed and are being run economically, efficiently, and effectively. This is a task of potentially great significance-- at a practical level for citizens, and at a more abstract level for the health and vitality of democratic governance. In historical terms it is, in many senses, a relatively new procedure, one that has been adopted by many but not all EU member states. These aspects alone may be regarded as sufficient to justify our adding this book to the world's library shelves. Nevertheless, we seek the reader's indulgence to say something more about our aims, who 'we' are, and how (and with whose help) we have put this text together.

With respect to the book's raison d'être, we argue, first, that performance audits, as carried out by the Supreme Audit Institutions of individual countries, are actually and/or potentially activities of high democratic significance, as well as holding out the promise of helping to improve the functioning of government. Second, we point out that the number of publications offering sustained, independent analysis of the audit process is rather small. Third, we suggest that there are good reasons to explore the connections between performance auditing and public-sector management reform.

Performance audit is important because, in principle, it offers a means by which the citizens of democratic states may be offered independent reassurance as to the economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and good management of the programmes pursued by their governments. Over the last two decades most national audit offices (or 'Supreme Audit Institutions', as they collectively term themselves--hereafter SAIs) have devoted considerable energy and resources to the development and refinement of performance audit. Performance audit has, in effect, become a new instrument in the armoury of many SAIs--it has been added to a portfolio of other activities which usually includes more traditional forms of financial or regularity audit. In the following chapters we discuss what performance audit is and what its development trends have been.

Despite the centrality of SAIs in the legislative or executive machinery of most democratic states, the amount of academic attention that has been devoted to them has been modest. Only recently has the corpus of published work exceeded what a determined scholar could read in a single week. In contrast to the performance audit work of SAIs, the attempts of governments to modernize, streamline, and 'downsize' their administrative apparatuses have attracted the attention of many authors. A considerable academic and practitioner literature has grown, discussing the virtues and vices of privatization, corporatization, agentification, performance management, results . . .

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