Controlling Modern Government

Controlling Modern Government

Variety, Commonality and Change

Edited by Christopher Hood, Oliver James, B. Guy Peters and Colin Scott

Controlling Modern Government explores the long-term development of controls over government across five major state traditions in developed democracies – US, Japan, variants of continental-European models, a Scandinavian case and variants of the Westminster model.

Chapter 4: Higher civil servants: neither mutuality implosion nor oversight explosion

B. Guy Peters and Christopher Hood

Subjects: economics and finance, political economy, politics and public policy, political economy


4.1 OVERVIEW B. Guy Peters and Christopher Hood 1 Varied Patterns of Control and the Puzzle of Invisible Randomness The control of higher civil servants is an issue in every political system, and for several reasons. One is the political importance of securing loyalty, honesty and competency from those in sensitive high-level positions in the state. There is a voluminous literature examining higher bureaucracies as a principal–agent control problem, with elected politicians cast in the role of principals and the bureaucrats as the agents who are the objects of control. Important as that approach undoubtedly is, higher civil servants in many countries are to a greater or lesser extent part of a constitutional system of mutual checking, exercising autonomous powers at least for some purposes. Even in the UK Westminster model, civil servants have such a constitutional role in handling transfers of power from one elected government to another, in personally accounting for the expenditure of public money and in preventing the apparatus of executive government from being used for electoral campaigning. Moreover, some higher civil servants have direct statutory powers vested in them. So in many cases higher civil servants are part of a web of control in a broader sense. They are not just on the receiving end. The main focus of the analysis here is on the control of individual conduct of civil servants rather than the control of public bureaucracies as organizations, for example in budgeting or resource allocation. Admittedly, the two cannot be separated...

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