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Public Administration: Ideal Governance

Relevance of bureaucracy as a description and a model for the current public services

Public officials who lack a requisite flexibility stand a chance to construct bureaucratic models and systems of governance following rigid routines in the execution of their duties. Worse still, bureaucratic systems of governance hinder the ability of the public office incumbents to make right and intelligent decisions due to overdependence on the established protocols to arrive at such decisions (Budd, 2007, p.531).

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Considering the historical context in which Weber was writing, he observes that “there has been a process of extending bureaucracy that cuts across public and nonpublic boundaries rather than the development of post bureaucracy per se” (Budd, 2007, p.533). Weber’s conceptualization of ‘bureaucracy’ seems relevant as both a description and model for current public services to the extent that he declares a continuity of the old bureaucratic approaches in the public services rather than differences.

Ideal governance demands the reinvention of governments while not negating the importance of decentralization. However, de-bureaucratization seems too hard to realize since according to Osborne and Gaebler (1992), “the process of decentralization appears to be quite central to the discourses of reinventing governments” (p.69). Also, the various concepts such network governance (Klijn & Koppenjan, 2000, p.137), new public governance (NPG) (Osborne, 2006) and new public management (NPM) (Dunleavy & Hood, 1994, p.13), embraces common theme: “entrepreneurship, functional decentralization, and quasi-markets, enabled by technological and organizational innovation” (Budd, 2007, p.533).

In the good faith of fostering reinvention of governance, queries arise on the capacity of these concepts to ensure sustaining and rebirth of civil society alongside its constituent institutions and public domain relationships restructuring given that people consider such attempts as antithetical. What particularly concerns the advocates of non-bureaucratic and ‘ideal’ public service administration is the ability of the new administration forms to truncate the post-bureaucratic norms. Conceptualization of ‘bureaucracy’ is relevant as both a description and model for current public services since public domain restructuring based on the mentioned process fosters continual of bureaucratic forms ” in the delivery of publicly provided or underwritten services in reality” (Budd, 2007, p.533).

Perhaps the most significant indicator of practical realization of the theoretical constructs of idealistic governance is the apparent modern erosion of nation-state power to control all public service delivery organs especially due to advents of globalization, privatization, and liberation. As observed by Carneiro (1999), “within this environment, international policymakers have been seeking to reinvent governments (). From a different perspective, the private sector which is characterized by Adhocracy has eaten off the better part of the public service administration realm both at organizational and individual levels.

“A process of disintermediation has been initiated; a range of non-public agencies and actors directly provide and manage public services” (Budd, 2007, p.544). It is within this line of argument that Weber’s conceptualization of ‘bureaucracy’ is relevant as both a description and model for current public services to the extent that the theoretical construct of ‘ideal type’ of governance results to innovation, creativity, creation of proximal values to customers and entrepreneurial approach in delivering public services.

However, the delivery of such services is chiefly dependent on alteration of post-bureaucratic forms of administration to suit the highly advocated for organizational forms that are collectively shrouded within the umbrella of transformed public governance (TPG). However, it is essential to note that attaining conformance to the prospective service delivery value, standards and “contractual obligations, the existence of indivisibilities and the need to exploit economies of scale and scope constrain the post-bureaucratic promise” (Budd, 2007, p.544). Nevertheless, the constraint opens up the opportunity for the reanimation.

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Political, legal and economic environments influence on the operation of public sector

In an attempt to achieve high performance of the public service sector in terms of service delivery to the customers or citizens, enabling political, legal and economic environments must remain strategically in place. Decentralization, privatization and collaborative endeavors to improve the public service delivery by shifting from the traditional techniques of public service administration to more modern approaches like new public management (NPM) which are market-oriented need to be put into operation in a friendly economic, legal and political environment.

Enormous incentives that would translate into improved macroeconomic efficiency and stability requires to be put in place in countries that are yet struggling to comply with strong demand to improve the performance of their public service realm brought about by globalization. As the Economic Commission for Africa (2004) notes, majority of search initiatives “seem inspired by the NPM concepts, the central feature of which is to introduce or simulate, within those sections of public service which are not privatized, the performance initiatives and the disciplines that exist in an economic market-focused environment” (p.2).

Political, legal and economic environments influence the operation of the public sector following the requirements of this new market-oriented management of the public service realm in different ways. For instance in African countries, adoption of the new public management techniques have been adversely affected by political, legal and economic environments since according to Economic Commission for Africa (2004) they are dominated by “ lack of efficiency, lack of accountability, ineffective management practices, and corruption” (p.1).

Political and legal environment

In any country, the political environment, whether current or past, affects the operations of public service in a way, which tends to foster or discourage operations of the public service. Consequently, concerning the Australian Public Service Commission (2003), the initiatives deemed appropriate to foster the improvement of the public service realm are equally affected by the existing political environment just ” as it affects the institutional frameworks, its workings, and the programs set up to support or restrict such initiatives” (p.10). Important aspects of any political and legal environment impacting the operation of the public service sector entangle the country’s political history, government policies, public goods, the nature of the public institutions and nature and traits of the government that is in power.

Historical accounts of wars, alliances, implemented reforms, ideologies, and nationalism may characterize the political and the legal environment. Each of these historical political perspectives may serve to either discourage or encourage the flourishing of the operation of the public service sector. The governments in power may present itself as a promoter of corruption, characterized by the inadequate representation of the citizens at the central government, possess elements of instability, dominant ideologies and promote decentralization and centralization of public services at deferring degrees. Public goods and the nature of public institutions coupled with their roles they proactively play to foster the continuation of the prevailing political and legal environment largely affect thriving of the public service.

Economic environment

Government policies relating to the economic, social, technological, and budgetary and information fields play significant roles in creating and shaping the environment within which the public service sector operates with a capacity to foster or curtail the effectiveness and efficiency of the operations. Economic structural factors such as the counties debt level, the GDP, employment levels among others affect the amount of the budget allocations to the public service delivery organs which in turn affects the operation of the sector.

Influence of political, legal and economic environments in Australia

The political, legal and economic environment have enormously contributed to the promotion of cute operation of public service operation in Australia. As the Australian Public Service Commission (2003) notes, “In the early 1980s, Australia went through a change of government that led to policies that promoted new ways of doing business in the public sector…” (p.18). As a result, telecommunication carriers and Telstra underwent privatization. Later a reform, which encouraged power decentralization and the transfer of a substantial amount of the power to ministries, saw its dawn.

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According to the Australian Public Service Commission (2003), this fostered “greater autonomy among ministries and other public agencies” (p.18). On adoption of charters and management principles, services delivered to the public service sector were defined. In the light of the new reforms, the citizens stood out as ‘clients’. About the Australian Public Service Commission (2003), “The government plans to introduce the concept of accountability when it comes to evaluating public servants, which will help promote the efficiency of projects generated by the public sector” (p.20). One cannot conduct the success of such attempts to improve the public service sector in an environment, which stands out as neither politically and legally nor economically right.

Impact of a federal form of government on a country’s public sector management

Federal forms of government for example in Australia consist of a commonwealth and state governance levels. According to the Australian Public Service Commission (2003), the commonwealth level of governance has over the years broadened its powers “ through increased capacity to raise revenues through taxation (including customs and exercise duties) as well as growing trade and commerce across state and national boundaries” (p.5).

In the modern-day, the commonwealth has had an impeccable ability to influence community affairs and businesses not negating apparent constitutional limitation in numerous areas. Perhaps its financial ability warrants it to achieve this by cooperating closely with various state government authorities. Even though the commonwealth governed posses no constitutional authority in as far as educational policies are concerned, it has according to the Australian Public Service Commission (2003) “stood a chance to influence significantly the operations of universities and other tertiary institutions in the states, by maintaining ‘tied’ grants” (p.71) in Australia.

Commonwealth legislates areas of wide application of public service delivery such as food standards staffing, broadcasting and navigation for instance in Australia through agreements with various states comprising the entire Australia territory. Universality of such legislation, however, draws concerns especially on bearing in mind that, Australia is a federation and thus a monarchy headed by a Queen. For sound management of public service, it proves critically important for federal governments to uphold high moral, political, economic and social responsibility particularly in cases where the people who keep vigilance over the execution and management of institutions delivering public services receive their appointment from the monarchy system.

On the other hand, the constitution does not limit the states in a federal system of governance on the subjects in which they may formulate laws. However, as the Australian Public Service Commission (2003) notes, ” the most important exceptions are that the states are precluded from imposing duties of customs and exercise, and they cannot raise defense forces without the consent of the commonwealth parliament” (p.35). This means that the states can pass many laws including those of public service management on a wider and broader extent as opposed to the commonwealth parliament.

The various enacted state laws control crucial areas of public service delivery such as health, education, roads among others. Within the states and commonwealth levels of governance, the government established organizations execute a wide range of responsibilities in the provision of deferring community services. Such organizations encompass public utilities that are charged with the responsibility to provide sound water, transport, and electricity services among others. Nevertheless, the government has privatized the majority of such organizations to reduce costs and increase profitability.

The government, whether federal, city or any other form, develops public policies seeking to enhance the delivery of public service by the established laws. However, the effect of federal governments, as discussed concerning the Australian scenario, is to create two arms charged with the responsibility of making such laws. However, each goes to a different extent for instance commonwealth government in case of Australia, and/or central government in case of other nations having the capacity to control major areas addressing public service management in the wider public interest.

Main methods used to measure the general management performance of the public sector

General management performance measurements demand the inputs of statistical evidence to ensure the precise determination of cute progress geared toward the realization of preset public sector management organizational objectives. “Performance measurement is the process whereby an organization establishes the parameters within which programs, investments, and acquisition are reaching the desired results” (Gamble, Strickland & Thompson, 2007, p.89). Measurement of public sector performance takes place based on a specific purpose.

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Evaluation entails one of the principal reasons why performance measurements remain essential once conducted in the public service. “To evaluate performance, managers need to determine what an agency is supposed to accomplish: to formulate a clear, coherent mission, strategy, and objective” (Kaplan & David, 1993, p.59). To incorporate a framework deemed right for analysis purposes, the evaluation methodology should make provisions for public sector organization performance outcomes involving process, inputs, outputs and the operational environment. The process evaluation is comprised of two essential variables: “organizational performance data and a benchmark that creates a framework for analyzing that data” (Kaplan & David, 1993, p.63). Other reasons for measuring public sector management include fostering improvement, learning, motivation, enhance and budgeting among others.

Currently, there are enormous performance measurement methods and systems in the public sector. Productivity stands out as one of the measurements, which can unveil crucial, information about the performance of the public sector. This measurement requires a clear knowledge of the inputs and the outputs (Boyle, 2006, p.36). By comparing the input and output levels, one can obtain a performance score with the most preferred situation occurring where he/she obtains the equality of inputs and outputs.

However, people have received the approach of measuring productivity by equating inputs and outputs with criticism. For instance, Putnam (1993) claims, “focus on outcomes (changes in health rather than patients treated; changes in educational status rather than numbers of lessons taught) include changes over which the government has no control” (p.37). Consistent with the argument, productivity may increase due to a decrement of inputs and/or increment of outputs or when inputs remain at the same level but the outputs increases among other relationships of the input and outputs.

Performance measurement methods designed specifically for the TPM process and business-wide implementations exist. Such methods include a balanced scorecard (Kaplan & David, 1993, p.61), Cambridge Measurement Process (Norton, 1996, p.56), and performance prism (Norton, 1996, p.86). In the case of team-based structures, total measurement development method (TMDM), and 7-step process (Kaplan & David 1993, p.63) come in handy.

All of these performance measurement metrics requires “Leading and lagging measures identification, expected targets and thresholds establishment, and baseline and benchmarking data development” (Schacter, 2002, p.7). By measuring public sector performance, various bottlenecks in the delivery of public services can in a big way established. This constitutes a major milestone in fostering public sector accountability especially through the adoption of measurable new public management techniques such as NPM and NPG.

Current approaches to financial management in the public sector

Due to the stepped-up concerns about the evident shortages in the financial management in the public sector, governments such as Australian and Canadian governments among others have swiftly moved in to adopt the current approaches of government reinvention. For instance, Campos and Pradham (1997) notes, “In the United States, the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), is taking a lead role in pushing public sector entities to adopt financial and accounting practices more closely aligned with the private-sector business model” (p.432).

GASB establishes accounting financial standards of reporting in the local and state governments. The majority of these endeavors remain largely inspired by the concepts of modern financial management improvement in the public sector engulfed by new public management (NPM) and new public governance (NPG) approaches. Some of the key features in current approaches to financial management in the public sector including but not limited to accrual accounting, focusing on financial management based on outputs and devolution of financial management systems in the public sector system. The first two key features of new approaches in the management of the public sector go through thorough scrutiny.

Accrual accounting

The need for an accurate financial management system in the public sector gave rise to accrual accounting. Accrual accounting is “An accounting method that measures the performance and position of an organization by recognizing economic events regardless of when cash transactions occur” (Cangiano, 1996, p.108). The major strength of this approach is that it “allows the current cash inflows/outflows to be combined with future expected cash inflows/outflows to give a more accurate picture of a company’s current financial condition” (Cangiano, 1996, p.113).

Also, accrual accounting reflects impacts of the various financial decisions more realistically, facilitates full outs and costs allocation in the public service sector. According to Scott (1996), “…it also provides information that, in association with nonfinancial data, is necessary to judge the cost of decisions” (p.43). On the other hand, accrual accounting is sophisticated and more expensive to implement compared to traditional approaches such as cash accounting.

Focusing on financial management based on outputs

Focusing on outputs rather than inputs in the financial management of the public sector serves to bring forth a better and accountable instrument of control. According to The New Zealand Treasury (1987), “…management system has been subjected to criticism over its focus on outputs rather than outcomes” (p.81). However, governments are principally concerned with outputs rather than inputs. Since the outputs are easier to measure and that governments will only purchase inputs that are required to produce just requisite desired outputs, focusing on the outputs foster financial accountability in both local and central governments.

This feature is particularly important since it gives the benefits of “ increasing focus on achieving policy goals, reduces the ability of legislators to engage in patronage spending, allows a more discretion and direction innovation in choosing how much and which kinds of inputs to use to provide services”(Stace & Norman, 1995, p.72). On the other hand, employing the use of outputs alone to measure the performance of the public service sector introduces some problems. Such problems include difficulties in allocation, measurements, periods, and causality.

To this end, Jeffrey (1997) argues that ” allocating inputs costs to outputs already strains the limits of accounting technology and taking the next step and allocating outputs costs to outcomes would in most cases be impossible” (p.3). Some services such as the curtailment of the campaigns of success suicide pose difficulties of measurements. The impacts of the success of initiatives geared toward encouraging education and observance of cute public health may take decades to be felt. Consequently, a problem of the period is introduced.


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