Traditionally, American government has created detailed, formal procedures to ensure that its agencies and employees are accountable for finances and fairness. Now in the interest of improved performance, we are asking our front-line workers to be more responsive, we are urging our middle managers to be innovative, and we are exhorting our public executives to be entrepreneurial. Yet what is the theory of democratic accountability that empowers public employees to exercise such discretion while still ensuring that we remain a government of laws? How can government be responsive to the needs of individual citizens and still remain accountable to the entire polity?
In Rethinking Democratic Accountability, Robert D. Behn examines the ambiguities, contradictions, and inadequacies in our current systems of accountability for finances, fairness, and performance. Weaving wry observations with political theory, Behn suggests a new model of accountability -with "compacts of collective, mutual responsibility" -to address new paradigms for public management.
Robert D. Behn is professor of public policy at Duke University's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy and director of The Governors Center. He is the author of Leadership Counts: Lessons for Public Managers (Harvard, 1991) and writes the management column for Governing.