Large numbers of individual citizens and many interest groups throughout the United States are, justifiably or not, at the very least uncertain about the performance of government bureaucracies; more often they view them as unresponsive, ineffective, and to some extent unnecessary. Dissatisfaction with the cost and performance of governments has led to a variety of approaches for citizen participation in the work of government bureaucracies. Some types of participation have been initiated by citizens; others have been the result of deliberate action by the legislative or executive branch. The former evidences grass-roots vitality in this constitutional democracy; the latter underscores a concern for hearing from those whose presence might otherwise not be felt.
Citizen involvement in administrative processes serves three purposes that relate directly to accountability: first, it lets public administrators know how citizens perceive the performance of an organization; second, it provides participating citizens with information that can help them make judgments as to what that part of government should and can do; and third, it leads to better government and increased confidence in it.
Citizen participation may be a short-term special activity or more continuing and permanent. Organizing a single effort and obtaining useful results are commonplace. The goal is clear. Busy and able citizens interested in the subject are often willing to serve temporarily on special committees or similar bodies; and public administrators find it quite easy to provide essential information and staff support for an effort that will be completed in a week, a month, or even six months. It is far more difficult to institu-