International Handbook of Public Management Reform
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International Handbook of Public Management Reform

Edited by Shaun Goldfinch and Joe L. Wallis

This major Handbook provides a state-of-the-art study of the recent history and future development of international public management reform.
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Chapter 4: New Public Management and the Politics of Accountability

Robert Gregory


Robert Gregory The 3rd of July 1863 was a critical point in the American Civil War. That afternoon, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the strategic military tide began to turn in the Union’s favour, as a result of a disastrous decision by the Confederate Commander, General Robert E. Lee. Rejecting the strongly dissenting advice of his principal associate, General James Longstreet, Lee had ordered a frontal infantry attack, across a mile of open field, against the centre point of the Union lines on the higher ground of Cemetery Ridge, and in the face of deadly artillery bombardment. The Confederate troops were decimated. As the survivors regrouped in retreat, a distraught Lee, rode out to them on his beloved steed, ‘Traveller’. ‘Men’, he implored, ‘it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault!’ Introduction Today, in the main news media outlets of western democracies few words are likely to be used more frequently in regard to governmental activity than the word ‘accountability’. This widespread usage of the term reflects a strong desire that when something goes wrong, someone, somewhere in government, should be ‘held to account’. What is normally intended is that some person or some persons should be required to provide the public with a full and honest account of why it happened, and that appropriate sanctions should be invoked against those causally responsible. This is largely because there is in all liberal-democratic systems of government a foundational expectation, manifest in complex legal and constitutional arrangements, that public power and authority will...

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