Many times, the concept of accountability provokes a sense of nervousness within administrators. At a time in which the public sector is changing so quickly and there is much debate regarding how it ought to be ran, it is an especially difficult task for a public administrator to understand their role within the sector. Often, these challenges are in regard to accountability. How do I determine accountability? What exactly does accountability entail? How can I improve accountability in myself, my employees, and my employer? In an era of change and discovery, researchers have sought out to answer these questions. The purpose of this paper is to apply the critical analysis of journal articles, Chan and Rosenbloom (2010), de Lander Julnes (2012), and Schatz (2013) to give insight on what these answers and the future of public administration may be.
In Chan and Rosenbloom’s (2010) paper, “Four Challenges to Accountability in Contemporary Public Administration: Lessons from the United States and China,” the authors examine the various challenges that have affected accountability in public administration secondary to the implementation of new public management reforms. In de Lancer Julnes’ (2012) paper, “Accountability Unbound,” she evaluates accountability within the context of “new governance” in which decisions are made by multiple actors with differing objectives. In “Fighting Corruption with Social Accountability” (2013), Schatz takes a different approach and emphasizes various social accountability mechanisms and what makes them successful.
All three authors declare that accountability is especially important within the framework of “new” public administration. This is a platform of the papers and crucial to understand prior to moving forward with studying them. Each of the papers independently states that this switch, which occurred sometime in the 1970s, was significant and flipped much of what was formerly thought to be known about public administration on its head. This shift lead to a lack of accountability in administrators, bringing to light the importance of it and spurring the minds of researchers who scurried to research and understand what this new information entailed and how to improve it. It is this notion that lead to these papers being written. The papers do this by focusing and drawing conclusions from different governments and cultures around the world.
Though the papers all have the same underlying intentions and goals, they each have a unique method of supporting them. For instance, Chan and Rosenbloom (2010) analyze several challenges that new public administration reforms have on the United States and China and back their analysis by several other works of literature. De Lander Julnes (2012), on the other hand, crafts a literature review of only a few different sources and then applies her own analysis to their works. Schatz (2013), on the other end of the spectrum, uses a comparative case study analysis to test conflicting hypotheses regarding accountability to see which one holds up the best.
All of the critiques journals cited in this analysis focused on different forms of accountability. Chan and Rosenbloom (2010) emphasize bureaucratic, legal and political accountability but encourages agencies to use whichever type or types of systems that are more relevant and applicable to their institution. De Lancer Julnes (2012) chooses to not elaborate on different types of accountability. Schatz (2013) takes a different approach and speaks only to social accountability. Though he does acknowledge that other forms exist, he argues that social accountability is the mechanism that has the greatest potential to make a positive impact.
Each of the journals acknowledge several, different forms of challenges to accountability as well as differing methods of overcoming the challenges. In Chan and Rosenbloom’s (2010) article, they cite “maintaining legal controls, protecting non-mission-based administrative objectives, pursuing public values, and sustaining hierarchical authority” as the primary obstacles to accountability. They argue that corruption is the cause of these problems. For that reason, they push for increased transparency so that maladministration would become uncovered and corrected. They advocate for policies such as the Open Government Act that improve political accountability by increasing transparency.
De Lancer Julnes (2012) chooses to elaborate significantly more that Chan and Rosenbloom (2012) on the challenges, stating that it is extremely complicated to understand, let alone measure. They cite market failures, such as not enough buyers and sellers, information asymmetry and high resource exchange costs, as potential causes of accountability dilemmas and shortcomings. Knowing when to reward versus when to sanction, as well as how and when to sanction can also accidentally illicit wrong behavior, thus causing less accountability, if executed incorrectly. This boils down to what she refers to as “conflict between legitimacy and authority.”
Schatz (2013) claims that corruption or “the misuse of public office for private gain” as well as the failure of anti-corruption policies are the primary reason that accountability is defied. In order to correct or prevent these challenges, a full background and understanding of these problems as well as the threat of sanctions are necessary. If it is not believed that these threats are credible, they will not be taken seriously and will therefore not be successful.
All three of the authors contend that studying accountability within public administration is important to yield greater performance of administrators. However, each have very unique takes on how strong the link between performance and accountability is, as well as how much performance outcomes should be emphasized. For example, Chan and Rosenbloom (2010) argue for a strong correlation and causation between accountability and performance. They endorse the idea that results are more significant than procedure and people should be held accountable for results, or their performance, rather than processes. In other words, there is a trade-off that favors flexibility for accountability. They greatly emphasize the importance of performance measurement, especially in policy.
De Lancer Julnes (2012) and Schatz (2013) take a less surefire approach. De Lancer Julnes (2012) acknowledges that there is a link between accountability and performance that leads to “effectiveness efficiency, and productivity” but it is not very strong. Similarly, Schatz (2013) states that though there is a relationship between the two and performance is a way to judge accountability, it should not be where the primary focus lies.
Each of the articles take a pragmatic approach and focus on the issue of accountability of public service in practice. They all emphasize the necessity of using hard data to fuel their research and studies. More importantly, they discuss the importance of applying their research to real-life and the reasons that each of them believe that their approach will be successful.
Though the articles are similar in several ways, their research comes from very different geographic locations and therefore yields results that vary in how they can be generalized. Chan and Rosenbloom (2010) emphasize on contextualization which is easily applied to other levels of government and areas of practice. In a different approach, de Lancer Julnes (2012) has very heavy democratic tones throughout her article, making its application to non-democratic nations less likely. Lastly, because Schatz (2013) primarily focused on countries such as Tanzania, Mumbai, and Uganda where corruption runs rampant, it is not very generalizable to countries where it does not.
Largely due to their different approaches and research methods, the articles have very distinct weaknesses. For example, Chan and Rosenbloom’s (2010) article has a tendency of being repetitive and going off on tangents. Additionally, because it only examines accountability in China and America, it is hard to see how many of the propositions can be applied to other countries and cultures. De Lander Julnes (2012) often sites her own, previous research instead of explaining some of her statements. Additionally, her cited information is largely pulled from specifically Northeastern America which arguably discredits her work’s applicability. Similarly, Schatz (2013) uses very dense language and assumes that the reader understands several of his complex concepts, making it difficult for someone who does not actively study the field to keep up.
Though there are weaknesses and opportunities for improvement in the articles, they do deserve much credit for their various strengths. Each of them were written within the recent past and elaborate fully on the concept of the ‘new’ public administration which is crucial. Chan and Rosenbloom (2010)’s article has an overarching theme of contextualization that can be applied to many different countries and disciplines. It is also widely researched, as there are 57 works on the Reference page and the article itself is only 19 pages. De Lander (2012) uses a very incremented, step by step approach to reviewing articles and research, making following along simple and cohesive. Additionally, she supports her claims with strong numeric evidence. Finally, a clear effort is put forth on the part of Schatz (2013) for simplifying his dense article. He clearly shapes the objective and purpose of the research throughout the article. His use of infographics and tables also makes the evidence more discernible.
In today’s day and age, the public sector is rapidly evolving and the research is not far behind. Chan and Rosenbloom (2010), de Lander Julnes (2012), and Schatz (2013) are only a few of the responsible practitioners who are paving the way by researching and analyzing accountability. Considering their research and the research of others is crucial to improving the public sector both on an individual and institutional scale. It is the applicability of these studies that will lead to an era of more responsible practitioners.