American public administration became a self-aware academic discipline and field of professional practice during the Progressive Era. The politics–administration dichotomy provided the intellectual rationale for this transformation, but it was subsequently debunked, causing grave concerns about the accountability and performance of public administrators because they are appointed rather than elected officials with lifetime tenure. This chapter explores the tense relationship between bureaucratic accountability and performance in American public administration, focusing on how these concerns emerged during the Progressive Era and why they continue to dominate the study and practice of public administration today. Efforts to resolve these concerns are summarized and critiqued. Finally, the chapter concludes that the pursuit of accountability and performance will likely shape the future of American public administration_even as the administrative state shrinks and shared governance proliferates. Public administration scholars and practitioners will thus need to continue searching for ways to satisfy these howling demands.
Gene A. Brewer
Public service motivation is one of the fastest growing topics in the public management field. Yet scholarly attention has been somewhat unbalanced. Empirical research has surged ahead of conceptual and theoretical development, which have been hindered by several nagging problems that have slowed research progress. This chapteridentifies three such problems and discusses some potential solutions for them. First is the ‘house-ghost’ problem. Many people believe motivation exists but no one has actually seen it. This is because motivation is an intangible or imaginary concept that cannot be observed directly. Evidence is thus largely circumstantial and dependent on self-reports, inviting sceptics to question whether the concept is viable. Second is the ‘goody two-shoes’ problem. Despite occasional reservations, public service motivation has been portrayed in the public administration literature as a wholly positive attribute. Yet it can have a dark side. Strongly committed employees may burn out easily or subvert the public interest if they perceive it in perverse ways. The third problem is the ‘straw man fallacy’. This problem stems from the tension between public service motivation’s roots in government institutions and its more universal stature as a behavioural attribute that transcends the public sector. Critics have, for example, misconstrued the concept by claiming that it is only intended for government employees. Then they knock down this proverbial straw man by presenting evidence that not all government employees are publicservice motivated and many other individuals exhibit similar motives! This is of course a logical fallacy but it exposes a real vulnerability: the public service motivation concept is conceptually anchored in government institutions but it has a more sprawling reality. Together, these three obstacles have caused persistent doubts about the concept’s viability and they have hindered research progress. Their implications are discussed and some potential solutions are considered.