chapter  9
Administrative reform
Pages 20

One of the many paradoxes in public administration is that, during an era in which much of the public considers government irrelevant and almost inherently inefficient (see Chapter 2) their elective leaders have continued to spend an immense amount of time and energy reforming public administration. For the most part the goals of these reforms are the same as those expressed in the Gore Report (National Performance Review) in the United States: to make government work better and cost less. The definition of “working better” may differ across governments, and even across components of the same government. The basic point, however, is that if government is to be able to overcome the discontent and distrust of its citizens, it must find ways to become more efficient and effective in the processes of making and implementing policy. At the same time, however, there are also pressures for government to become more responsive to the public and to be more transparent in the way in which it makes decisions. The goals of making government more efficient and effective are worthy in this period or any other, and there have been many attempts to achieve them. Some reforms have been sweeping changes, such as those implemented in the post-communist systems in Eastern Europe, as well as in many democratizing countries in the Third World. Other reforms have been more incremental, with many governments in the First World making relatively minor changes in the way they administer policies (see Schröter and Wollmann, 1997). It is almost impossible, however, to find a political system that has not seriously examined its public administration and imposed some manner of change, whether comprehensive or more sweeping (Khan, 1999). There are differences in the extent of change, and in the style of change being adopted, but there almost certainly has been change. This chapter will consider the reform of public bureaucracies in a comparative perspective. We will do this by first discussing the ideas that have motivated reform during the past several decades, rather than by taking the question on a country by country, or even a policy area by area, basis. We will also look at the diffusion of relatively common ideas about change, and discuss what factors cause many countries to adopt reforms that appear, at least on the surface, to be of little relevance to the objective political and economic conditions being addressed. Indeed, we will question the efficacy of reform in many settings, and point to alternative strategies.