Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Similarities and Differences in Perceptions of Public Service among Public Administrators on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Similarities and Differences in Perceptions of Public Service among Public Administrators on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Article excerpt

Internationalizing Public Management

As the end of the 20th century nears, all public managers must prepare to participate in a global environment (Riggs, 1991). At the same time, U.S. public administrators are finding that their public now consists of people from many other cultures (Singer, 1992). Thus it is becoming increasingly necessary for U.S. public managers to explore how their counterparts in other cultures think--about themselves, about us, and about working in the public sector (Anderson, 1992). New research is needed that takes into account the broader environment and places the study of public administration in a "world context" (Jun, 1976).

Nowhere is this more true or more urgent than on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Clinton administration recently promised to help provide over $7 billion for infrastructure projects along the border as part of the negotiations with Mexico on how to implement the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This marks the first time that funds will be earmarked for dealing bi-nationally with border-area problems. Texas officials alone have identified needs for over $2 billion for projects including wastewater treatment, solid waste disposal, and hazardous waste management (LaGesse, 1993).

Until now, most U.S.--as well as Mexican--public sector projects have stopped at the border. Indeed, with the exception of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and a handful of bridges over the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, there have been very few joint U.S.-Mexican public projects (Mumme, 1984). However, calls are being issued with increasing frequency and urgency for joint local public sector projects to be undertaken in areas such as preventive health, drug interdiction, crime control, air pollution, environmental cleanup, and so forth.

If such projects are to be undertaken, it will be important for local public managers in the United States and Mexico to become more familiar with one another's perceptions of public service. One compelling reason is that as demands for public services increase, the size and power of government increases, which in turn increases the public's demand for accountability (Dwivedi and Jabbra, 1989). Different states adopt different accountability mechanisms, but an important one is the orientation that the public administrator adopts to public service. However, this orientation can vary, especially between less-developed and more-developed countries (Heidenheimer, 1970). In less-developed societies, where exchange relations may be based on kinship or patron-client relations, the public official may have little sense of duty to the broader community. In transitional societies, the public official may have links to the larger society, but through political `machines' that mediate between the citizen and the government. In more-developed societies, a civic culture evolves in which the public official develops strong "community-regarding norms" (p. 22). There are problems with using normative orientations as accountability mechanisms (Smookler, 1989), but they are relied on to a great extent in most bureaucratic nations; thus it is important to discover what these orientations are.

This is especially true for relationships between the United States and Mexico. Mexico has been characterized as a patrimonial state (Grindle, 1977), where the state performs a wider variety of functions than is typical in the United States, and the bureaucracy is one of the most important institutions in society. Although Mexican government is in theory a federated model, in practice it is highly centralized and personalized in the executive branch and at the federal level. The electoral (Congress, state legislatures) and judicial branches of government are relatively weak and dominated by the executive branch (Tuohy, 1973). State and municipal governments have little autonomous power and even fewer independent resources (Fagen and Tuohy, 1972). …

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