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The Myth of Non-Bureaucratic Accountability and the Anti-Administrative Impulse

Rubin, Edward
June 4, 2015

Source: (-0001) In Michael W. Dowdle, Ed., Public Accountability, Designs, Dilemmas and Experiences. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 52-82.

“Accountability has become such a fashionable concept in contemporary legal and political science scholarship that it seems to have expanded beyond any plausible meaning that can be attached to the term. In assessing this concept, the first step is to confine it to specific assertions that can be fitted within a conventional definition. Roughly speaking, accountability can be defined as the ability of one actor to demand an explanation or justificatio of another actor for its actions, and to reward or punish that second actor on the basis of it performance or its explanation. This chapter focuses on two fo the leading uses of this term in contemporary scholarship, two uses that have contributed heavily to the current fashion for accountability. The first is that local and market institutions are more accountable to the people, or that people should be given the opportunity to be accountable for themselves. From this, other observers have concluded that authority should be devolved from the central government to localities and individuals, that policy should be made by officials at the local level or by private parties. The second use of accountability is based on the idea that elected officials — legislators and the chief executive — are accountable to the people, while officials who obtained their position by appointment or examination are not. From this, some observers have concluded that authority should be shifted to elected officials: that policy decisions should be made by legislators, not administrators, that all administrators should be controlled by an elected chief executie, and that the federal government should not intrude on the authority of elected officials in the state.”


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