Facets of accountability


This assessment analyzes different facets of accountability as it relates to administrative ethical values, and performance. The first article opened to examine the notion that accountability, professional competence and ethical standards can and should complement each other, rather than be in conflict with each other. Thought this may be true, professional competence aimed at high performance must also be paired with ethical administrative behavior, and political values of fairness. Accountability must be preserved for organizations to implement ethical procedures. Administrators need to have sound ethical principles to accomplish such endeavor. Professional competence should be characterized by standards that deal with entry-level competencies standards. This can be attributed to the discussion post question about the skills that are required for a consummate professional. Skills such as technical, public speaking and leadership skills are very important for administrators to have. Other proficiencies like interpersonal skills, self-assessment and self learning are also necessary for individuals who consider themselves administrators or managers. These skills allow administrators to make better judgments and decision in the workplace. Efficiency and performance alone are not sufficient criteria's for administrative effectiveness. When an ethical or legal compliance decision has to be made by an administrator he or she must consider the best possible decision for the public.

Accountability is a concept with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with such concepts as responsibility, answerability, and enforcement. But what exactly does this concept mean? In its most literal sense, the term accountability means little more than the "ability" or the "possibility" that someone or something can be "accounted for" or "counted up" (Akerman, 2004). The term accountability has many different ways of transcending itself. Accountability can also mean the controllability or answerability of public officials, whereas responsibility addresses their obligations and trust-worthiness. The particular duties of public servants are also emphasized. Particular duties are based on the ethics of professional judgment and personal responsibility (Brady, 2003). Personal responsibility in other words means accepting yourself fully answerable for the results in your actions.

The general public surveys and polls about accountability fail to differentiate among the many meanings that accountability can embody for individual respondents. Questions often focus only on the public's support for the creation of accountability, not how the public create accountability. Managers need to be wary of what role does accountability play when they are making decisions that affect the public. Managers should have the proper training and already be equipped to make the most ethical and legal decision no matter what. Every decision that a manager makes is not always going to be popular with the public. Nevertheless, someone should be held accountable. This is where the problem starts, who should be held accountable. Individual accountability goes beyond the responsibility that goes with the authority to do something. It's also responsible to use authority justifiably and credibly. Accountability may expand more to include responsibility for the consequences or results of one's actions, whether positive or negative, and whether intended or not.

During the past few decades the field of public administration has recognized that the increasing need for social accountability. It would be impossible to review every piece of literature relating to the topic of accountability in the public sector. Studies in the past on accountability in reference to public organizations have largely revolved around organizational ecology, resource dependence, and stakeholder theories. For decades, the administrative state of public organization has continued to govern even in the midst of paralyzing political crises, upheavals and revolutions around the world. It is an established tradition that bureaucracy has survived political changes for more than three millennia (Farazmand, 2002).

Unremitting from that notion this critical assessment reflects the different facets of accountability as it relates to administrators, managers, and political leaders. The three articles that are going to be analyzed includes: Administration ethics and professional competence: accountability and performance (Farazmand, 2002); Accountability when hierarchical authority is absent: views from public-private partnerships (Acar, 2008); and Accountability Myopia: losing sight of organizational learning (Ebrehim, 2005)

The core of the discussion in the first article by Farazmand is twofold. First it elaborated on the reconciliation of efficient administration performance as it relates to accountability. Second, the article expressed how accountability, professional competence and ethical standards can and should complement each other, rather than be in conflict with each other. Furthermore, the article analyzed the idea that globalization and privatization have cause severe problems for accountability. This idea mainly evolved because neither global finance nor national privatizing elites takes accountable seriously.

Accountability is resisted by globalizing powers, both transnational corporations and their globalizing states, as well as by local elites who's further empowered both politically and financially which are depended on growth of the globalization development. Some of the factors or causes contributing to the decline of the public service and its damaged image are discussed. The article emphasize administrative accountability is very important because there are many aspects of administrators' jobs that can lead to a misconception of corruption, transgression and misconduct. At the same time, there are also aspects of public administration that make it difficult to attain an acceptable or satisfactory level of accountability.

Accountability When Hierarchical Authority Is Absent (Acar, Guo, & Yang, 2008) examined what function accountability serves in public partnerships where one partner has no authority over others and no control over results. The article explores the functions of accountability in the context of multi-sectoral and multi-organizational settings. Two general approaches of understanding accountability were presented, namely, accountability as answerability (AA) and accountability as managing expectations (AME). The article briefly discusses their differences, strengths, and limitations. Findings support the notion that accountability plays a greater role in public management than indicated by the idea of answerability. Similar to the Farazmand article the AA approach typically places more emphasis on control, generally referring to lack of oversight.

The AA approach suggests, public administrators are denied responsibility to establish public purposes then they are denied the opportunity of creating public value and conducting strategic management. However, the AA approach underlies the dominant way of setting up accountability systems in practice and may lead to negative consequences (Heim, 1995). The AME approach takes the control aspect of accountability as its point of departure and posits that, in essence, holding someone answerable for performance implies the presence of prior expectations for such performance. The focus for the AME approach is on how managers anticipate, define, and respond to accountability pressures by scanning environments and then devising and implementing effective solutions to the expectations generated in different environment segments. Nevertheless, the two approaches have drastically different implications in practice. Regardless of analytical approaches, accountability can be viewed as a mechanism to ensure credible commitment from the parties involved in a relationship.

Accountability Myopia: losing sight of organizational learning (Ebrahim, 2005). The article challenges a normative assumption about accountability in organizations: that more accountability is necessarily better. More specifically, it examines two forms of myopia that characterize conceptions of accountability among public organization and nonprofits: (a) accountability as a set of unconnected binary relationships rather than as a system of relations and (b) accountability as short-term and rule-following behavior rather than as a means to longer-term social change. Another key purpose of the article was also to challenge the dominant but myopic view of accountability. It contend that for nonprofit organization (NPO) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in activities of complex social development and poverty alleviation, too much accountability can hinder them in achieving their missions.

In addition, the article attempted to link evaluation, learning, and accountability as connected. The article reasoned that a number of factors for further investigation of evaluations of administrative performance. The article focused on evaluation in the article for two reasons: It is a widely used mechanism among donors and nonprofits alike, and it has the potential to be used for purposes of both accountability and learning. Evaluation may be seen as mediating the relationship between upward accountability and organizational learning. To conclude the article acknowledged that if accountability is about relationships between organizational actors, then accountability mechanisms (such as evaluations) cannot be properly understood without some consideration of for whom and for what purpose they are employed.

All three articles demonstrated that to be a strong and sound administrator, one must display sound moral and ethical values and character. Promotion of efficiency and effectiveness at the cost of moral and ethical conduct will lead organizations to outsource their services. Outsourcing is sometimes chosen to dodge the rigidity in the public sector accounting system and accountability. Outsourcing is increasingly becoming a widely used option for the private sector as well as public. Many public sector organizations find that they bear high fixed costs to cover an unbalanced workload to maintain their desired services. Outsourcing allows the flexibility of moving unessential tasks to third parties while keeping the important ones in-house. Human resources and technical support are commonly outsourced in the public sector. The flexibility attribute gives public organizations the ability to adapt to both internal and external changes. It can also apply to adapt to and work with the company's changing policies.

Privatization also causes severe problems for accountability. Some of privatization's most vocal advocates think that "the primary goal of any privatization effort is, or should be, to introduce competition and market forces in the delivery of public services" (Savas, 2000, p. 122). However, that's not usually the reason why organizations contract out their services. The AA approach presented by Acar et al. (2008) introduces an element of strategy wherein management can forecast diverse expectations and to position their agency for practical as well as immediate responses without the need for outsourcing or privatization. In an era of contracting out and privatization, the AA provides the basis for the design and external control methods to maintain accountability. Yet the lack of oversight and control may fail to ensure legitimacy of accountability when contracting because of reasons such as contract failure and inadequate resources allocation devoted to oversight (Dicke, 2001). Administrators need to acquire proper resources and skills to discover a way to manage their outsource projects and services. The lack of oversight by public administrators is a problem. In varying scale, most self-governing public organizations will be subject to external audit review. For example, in the case of Canada, public organizations review is evaluated by the Auditor General. In the United States, the General Administrative Office oversees major public activities.

Acar et al. (2008) uses an explorative approach to understand accountability dynamics in public-private partnerships. Although the AA approach relies on public administrators' compliance with rules and elected officials preferences, the AME approach allows for a bigger role for public administrators to identify, define, and manage diverse expectations placed on the organizations by internal and external stakeholders. In scholarly research, AA and AME have been two contrasting and complementary approaches to understanding accountability (Drewry, 2002). Subsequently how do administrators operating as partners with other agencies manage accountability successfully? Administrators can shift to offering a more support in which factors such as shared responsibility, mutual trust, partner and beneficiary satisfaction, can prevail.

Critical factors associated with effective partnerships are the development of trust, cooperative interpersonal relationships, and processes which promote communication, mutual influence and joint learning. Administrators need to understand who is responsible to whom and for what? This is a critical question for any organization to ask in relation to both internal and external affairs. Accountability is critical and significantly more complex and consequently it remains unclear. The function of accountability in network settings is hidden when no one party has hierarchical authority over its partners and no full control over their performance. Administrators need to step in and allow individuals to take ownership of what their responsibilities are. Give them guidance and structure to co-exist amongst each other. A partnership will have a hard time succeeding if proper organization and direction is not provided.

Is too much accountability a bad thing? The article accountability myopia identified accountability relationships as thought it was complicated by the fact that public organizations often deal with competing accountability demands. It can be argued due to the vast amount of demands faced by public organizations, there is no such thing as too much accountability. These demands exist to serve the needs of the public. To ensure these needs are served efficiently, effectively and fairly public organizations need to hold their subordinates accountable. Organizations can accomplish that goal by providing clear processes and structures for all aspects of their services. Accountability is a relational concept.

Short-term and rule-following behavior rather than longer-term social change is not efficient for administrators to be successful. Accountability efforts and mechanisms do not stand alone but are reflective of relationships among organizational actors rooted in the social environment. Any events that affect a group of individuals that have shared values or characteristics can affect social change. This suggests that public administrators need to strive to make the best decision they can for the public.

The Professional Edge by Bowman et al. (2004) presented two premises that identify the dilemma with accountability in the public sector. Bowman et al. (2004) simply identified these theories as money and outcomes. "Money is closely related to accountability. People want to know (1) that dollars are being used as intended and (2) what they are getting for their taxes (Bowman et al, 2004). These two questions are very interesting because many public sector organizations find that they bear high fixed costs to cover an unbalanced workload to maintain their desired services.

Organizations have found flexibility in moving unessential tasks to third parties while keeping the important ones in-house. However, are the in house services attributing to the publics' interest? Public administrators can use the AA to provide the basis for the design and external control methods to maintain accountability. First public administrators need to understand where the funds are coming from. Taxes play a big role on the economy. In times of high property taxes administrators need to build reverses to deal with times when lower values of properties contribute low revenues. The term surcharge comes to mind here, which "generally refers to the imposition of personal liability on a fiduciary for willful or negligent misconduct in the administration of his or her fiduciary duties. Taxpayers may ask their auditors or controllers to investigate or impose a surcharge on a public official. In Pennsylvania legislators' allow for such procedure. Should the annual audit fail to reflect the requested surcharge, the taxpayer may appeal the audit as would a public official.

Bowman et al. (2005) referred to the second concern as results of outcomes. Detail performance results for programs are necessary. There are many possible ways that public agencies can improve programs results. However, much like the notion of oversight public programs lack leadership. Public administrators can utilize a set of courses such as the Results Based Accountability curriculum developed by Mark Friedman out of university of Maryland Administered by the Fiscal Policy Studies Institute (FPSI). "FPSIwas established in 1996 to assist communities,cities, counties, states and nations working to measurably improve the well-being of their citizens. Results based accountability program supports organizations and communities through: customized executive leadership development programs; executive masters programs in public management; certificate programs and workshops; organizational and individual assessments; executive coaching; technical assistance; research and documentation; publication; and conferences (Friedman, 2008). All of these programs are available for administrators to implement within their organizations.

All three articles contributes to a growing body of research on the affect of organizational learning is foundational for a broader view of accountability and crucial for focusing organizational attention on mission. Accountability is instrumental for establishing and enacting policies and processes to assess the progress and performance of programs or projects, as well as for providing a set of tools and mechanisms for tracking and monitoring activities and actions of administrators. Improving accountability is not only about accounting for public funds but also about making progress toward a mission that reflects accountability to communities or clients. Although these articles has focused on different facets of accountability, there is a need for research on a range of upward, downward, and internal accountability systems, particularly on the subject nature of method and how they vary with purpose, direction, and context.

Administrators and leaders frequently reduce accountability's complex nature to simplistic structure by promising easy fixes. Accountability is a high profile issue, and has continued to challenge traditional values. Studies appear to support this view and suggests that accountability relations are even more complex than the three article discussed in this assessment. It is rationally significant that accountability, like power is relational: It inherit in the relationships between people and organizations.

The subject of accountability has attracted growing scholarly interest in the field of public administration. For decades research has progressed significantly in various aspects. In a world of complex and universal problems of scarcity and social injustice, it is enticing and perhaps natural to look for quick fixes. But a key message for organizations involved in complex processes of social change is that neither answerability nor education is a cure-all. A central challenge administrator and policy maker's alike rests in working with these limitations to bring about long-term improvements in organizational performance and social accountability. It could be recommended that public judgment and self-regulation as two possible mechanisms for improving accountability within public administration.

These two ideas emphasizes that accountability is both about being held responsible by external actors and standards, as well as about taking internal responsibility for actions. Administrators need to have full grasp of the idea of personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is for the most part a choice that indicates that you accept accountability and are in control of your decision making. Taking accountability for your actions allow you to respond positively to unexpected results. As it relates to public organizations citizens need to be aware that social accountability also involves civic engagements as well.


  • Acar, M., Chao, G., & Kaifeng Y. (2008). Accountability when hierarchical authority is absent: Views From Public-Private Partnership Practitioners. The American Review of Public Administration, 38, 3-23.
  • Ackerman, J. (2004a). Co-Governance for accountability: Beyond exit and voice, World Development, 32 (3), pp.447-463.
  • Bowman, J.,West J., Berman, M., & Van Wart, M. (2004). The Professional Edge: Competencies in Public Service. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
  • Brady, F. N. (2003). Public administration and the ethics of Particularity. Public Administration Review 63(5), 525-34.
  • Drewry, G. (2002). The Citizen and the New Contractual Public Management: The quest for new forms of accountability and a new public law, in Stephen P. Osborne (ed.) Public Management: Critical Perspectives, pp. 429-50. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Ebrahim, A.S. (2005). Accountability Myopia: Losing sight of organizational learning: Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 34(1): 56-87.
  • Ebrahim, A. S. (2009). Placing the normative logics of accountability in thick perspective. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(6), 6:885-904.
  • Farazmand, Ali. (2002). Administrative Ethics and Professional Competence: Accountability and performance under globalization. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 68, 127-143
  • Heim, M. (February 1995). Accountability in Education.(Unpublished paper submitted to the Hawaii Department of Education in partial fulfillment of professional improvement leave requirements). Honolulu, HI: Hawaii State Department of Education, Office of the Superintendent.
  • Savas, E. S. (2000). Privatization and public-private partnerships. New York: Chatham House

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