Has Government by Committee Lost the Public's Confidence?
Government by committee, government by officials, and the modern state grew up together. Replacement of arbitrary and personal government by law-bound and impersonal government necessarily brought with it collective, shared decision-taking. The beamte, fonctionnaire, or civil servant operated first by rule, second through hierarchy, and third through committees. Public confidence in the administrators of the modernizing state stemmed from respect for the quality and neutrality of their administration (in contrast to the patronage and corruption of the old structures they replaced) and from their ultimate answerability to national political authorities.
In nineteenth-century administration most committees were within single ministries: sharing tasks, building consensus, registering and legitimizing decisions. Moves towards parliamentary democracy made for collective government, with ministers jointly responsible and therefore taking joint decisions around the cabinet (or council of ministers) table, supported by official committees to prepare their meetings and ensure that decisions were implemented. As government became more complex, so interministerial committees became more necessary and more widespread: to co-ordinate activities, to agree priorities, to resolve disputes. Over the past half-century, as the complexities of economic and social interaction have spread more and more across national boundaries, government activities have been forced to follow them. The European order within which we are living was constructed by intergovernmental committees, and is maintained by intergovernmental committees.
Strategic decisions, of course, have been taken by those who are politically responsible--ministers at the head of departments of state, heads of government and councils of ministers determining the 'national interest', ministerial representatives of national governments in striking