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Dichotomy between efficiency and accountability

McCurdy and Rosenbloom (2006) believed that when Waldo wrote about efficiency of the public institution, it was merely relative to changing values and not absolute. Based on Waldo's theories, "efficiency for efficiency's sake" is simply not practical and is possibly misleading. Chasing for efficiency alone also conflicts with ideal democratic values, which are "transparency, accountability, individual rights, due process and constitutional principles". Such conflict, noted McCurdy and Rosenbloom (2006, p. 209), created a new type of dichotomy between the chase of efficiency of public administration and their new hierarchies, especially in terms of the ideal democratic values, accountability, for instance.

To illustrate how this dichotomy has affected the modem administrative state, let us take a look at U.S.'s Medicare and Medicaid programs initiated in 1965. The U.S. Medicare is a social insurance program, similar to a single-payer healthcare system, administered by the U.S. Government to provide help insurance coverage to people who are aged 65 and over or those who meet other special criteria. The program is partially financed by payroll taxes. Medicaid, on the other hand, is a U.S. national health program aiming to help eligible (younger) individuals and families with low income and resources. It is a means-tested, needs based social welfare or protection program, and is jointly funded by the state as well as the federal governments. Both the Medicare and Medicaid programs are characterized by a non-hierarchical, decentralized network of healthcare operators, meaning that the U.S. federal government does not provide healthcare services or manage healthcare providers as it only sets the necessary standards and required quality of service and oversees compliance to those standards and qualities. The government's role, in this case, is to merely manage the managers and provide system oversight. While the result seems to be an effective publicly funded system that is not run by any public institutions, the ultimate responsibility is "broadly shared with no one fully in charge" (Kettl, 2002, p. 124). The Medicare and the Medicaid programs, hence, become good examples of how the current dichotomy between efficiency and accountability contrast with Woodrow Wilson's concept of hierarchical institutions and direct government services.

Another example that could illustrate the dichotomy concerns that with the welfare reform in the U.S. The "Great Society" program initiated in 1964 by former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson was an attempt to eliminate poverty and social injustice. In addition to poverty and social injustice, other goals like education, medical care, urban problems and transportation were also addressed. Rather than providing welfare services directly, a complex, decentralized network in the form of many small regions was created so that responsibility for the program in each region could be contracted out. The ultimate goal of each of these small regions was to move recipients off of welfare and help them get into jobs. All that the government required to do was to administer the outsourcing and contracting process and maintain brief oversight of the program's success. According to Kettl (2002, p.125), such kind of horizontal network created a customized solution local to citizens that exemplified how the old hierarchical bureaucracy could not have provided using the direct service approach.

Conclusion

While administrative thought is always in a state of continuous change, evolution and adaptation, it does not require a foundational orthodoxy. Rather, scholars like Kettl (2002, p. 132) argued that administrative thoughts should be open to be constantly redefined and re-described, not just theoretically, but also in an approach coherent to the actual social situation (Kettl, 2002, p. 134). In particular, such kind of new emphasis on "anti-foundation" and "constant adoption of new perspectives" offers a completely new language in terms of the reinterpretation of modern public administration. For instance, boundaries between public institutions once thought to be rigid and nonpermeable (Kettl, 2002, p. 136) in Woodrow Wilson's 1887 concepts have now, over time, proved to be completely permeable. It is, therefore, so important for public administrators to understand the importance of how the "fundamental reordering of values" could make a difference in public administration. After all, public administration is all about servicing the public and when the needs of the public changes, administrative theories should change correspondingly to cope with the new status quo, or else, what is the point for public administrators to study the history of the administrative theories if all that governments do is to stick to the old school and refuse to change?

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Raymond Cheng, PhD DPA FRSA, is the founder and chief editor of Commentary.com. He is an adjunct professor in international business and in marketing, an independent policy analyst as well as a language and cultural briefing consultant.

Email Raymond at raymond {dot} cheng {at} kellogg {dot} oxon {dot} org



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COUNT ON THE STATISTICS  100% Towels (c) Daniel Chittka
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Professor Sidney Gluck (c) Sandi BachomI am honored to have obtained Professor Sidney Gluck's (right) permission to allow me to repost here some of his work and interview related to China and socialism. Professor Gluck is professor emertius at the New School University in New York. A classical Marxist, Gluck has been studying China for 60 years in history and modern development. He has lectured all over the U.S. and still welcomes engagement at the age of 94 – photo © Sandi Bachom

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