Barbara S. Romzek
Melvin J. Dubnick
University of Kansas
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
A relationship in which an individual or agency is held to answer for performance that involves some delegation of authority to act. Accountability mechanisms are the means established for determining whether the delegated tasks have been performed in a satisfactory manner.
Accountability as a relationship involves one individual or agency being held to answer for performance expected by some significant "other." Although our specific concern here is with accountability as it relates to structures of governance and administration, accountability is a generic form of social relationship found in a variety of contexts. Social psychologists and sociologists regard the need of "having to account to others" as a fundamental means through which individuals adjust to social settings.
Accountability relationships in the public sector have distinct and empirically observable phenomena associated with them. In many instances accountability is associated with democratic administration, but in reality it is as relevant to nondemocratic regimes as it is to those tied to popular rule. And although it is often treated as a secondary factor in public administration, accountability plays a crucial role in shaping and directing the day-to-day operations of government.