Contributing to Accountability in Democratic Government
Edited by Jeremy Lonsdale, Peter Wilkins and Tom Ling
Paul L. Posner Accountability has always been central to the practice of public administration in any democratic system. As the principal mechanisms through which the people control their leaders, the field of public administration has rightly focused considerable attention on the concept of accountability. In many OECD nations, the term accountability has grown to an iconic status, with a symbolic imagery that permits this chameleon-like term to be attached to a wide range of causes and agendas.1 Rising expectations for public provisions of services have been accompanied by growing pressures for accountability on the part of the proliferating list of stakeholders and participants in the policymaking process. Public organizations are condemned to live in a world where the stakes associated with public programs have grown, but where there is little agreement among the many players on goals, expectations or standards. The rather straightforward, simple world of early public administration has been replaced by a world where public leaders and administrators must attempt to meet conflicting accountability expectations. Indeed, modern treatments consider accountability to be a multi-faceted concept, encompassing separate and often competing accountabilities to internal and external stakeholders. One classic treatment suggests that most government agencies are simultaneously beholden to four systems of accountability: (1) bureaucratic, (2) legal, (3) professional and (4) political. It goes without saying that each of these perspectives can and does conflict, leaving public managers with the difficult job of balancing these differing obligations.2 Most public organizations are, in effect, agents for multiple principals both within...