Holding Government Bureaucracies Accountable

By Bernard Rosen | Go to book overview

power comes the obligation for seeing that what the legislature decides should be done, does in fact take place.

In our system of government with its shared powers and checks and balances, the elected chief executive has an important initiatory role and the primary operational responsibility. How well the chief executives meet these expectations depends very heavily on those they select for their immediate staff and top leadership positions in the departments and agencies. In turn, it is the ability and character of these executives that largely determine whether government bureaucracies, at all levels, are effectively organized and staffed with the high competence and dedication needed to serve the public interest.

Having said that, one must also recognize that all of the other forces in our democratic society that exercise power and influence in making statutory or administrative policy carry a moral obligation to keep an eye on how such policy is carried out. Responsible oversight is not as "heady" as shaping policy. Simply damning the bureaucracy when failings occur is irresponsible and unproductive. Evidence of incompetence or corruption often leads to calls for prompt dismissals or prosecutions as the solution. That may be necessary, but by itself is often inadequate; the underlying causes of incompetence or corruption must be identified and addressed.

Whatever the causes, responsible citizen groups, with the help of the news media, need to look initially to the executive but ultimately to the legislative body to determine authoritatively the facts and initiate corrective action--action which is tempered by Peter Drucker's sage advice: "If control tries to account for everything, it becomes prohibitively expensive."20

As we proceed along these lines, we will demonstrate a maturity for self- governance which recognizes in our constitutional democracy the people are supreme, and the people expect those they elect to hold accountable the bureaucracies they create and sustain.


NOTES
1.
Kevin P. Kearns, Managing for Accountability ( San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996), p. xiii.
2.
Leadership in Jeopardy: The Fraying of the Presidential Appointment System, National Academy of Public Administration, November 1985, pp. 2-4.
3.
Rebuilding the Public Service, The National Commission on the Public Service, 1989, pp. 18, 19.
4.
Paul C. Light, Thickening Government: Federal Hierarchy and the Diffusion of Accountability ( Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution and Governance Institute, 1995).
5.
Presidential Documents, week ending August 4, 1978, p. 1347.
6.
"Bureaucrats Under Fire", National Journal ( September 1978), pp. 1540- 1541.

-221-

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Holding Government Bureaucracies Accountable
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Notes xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Part I - The Substance of Accountability 1
  • 1 - Public Administrators: Accountable for What? 3
  • Notes 17
  • 2 - Public Administrators: Accountable to Whom? 19
  • Notes 31
  • Part II - The Processes of Accountability 33
  • 3 - Accountability Processes Within the Executive Branch 35
  • Notes 59
  • 4 - Accountability Mechanisms and Methods Used by the Legislative Branch 63
  • Notes 88
  • 5 - Citizen Participation in the Accountability Processes 91
  • Notes 115
  • 6 - Judicial Review of Administrative Actions 117
  • Notes 134
  • 7 - Other Instruments for Accountability 137
  • Notes 172
  • Part III - The Future 177
  • 8 - New Initiatives for Improving Accountability 179
  • Notes 205
  • 9 - In Retrospect 209
  • Notes 221
  • Selected Bibliography 223
  • Index 225
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