Tag Archives: Public Administration

Big Government NOT Linked to Greater Corruption

You hear it all the time: “Big government is the problem.” “We need to reduce the size of the government if we want to eliminate corruption.” As it turns out, just because the government grows in size doesn’t mean that corruption will grow along with it.

From a journal article published last year [Emphasis added]:

This study’s findings suggest that anticorruption policy is regularly hindered by oversimplistic analyses suggesting that “government size” must be synonymous with “corruption,” and that by cutting its government a country is concomitantly reducing the opportunities for the abuse of public office. In contrast with such analyses, this study found no evidence that government size is directly associated with corruption. In fact, the findings presented here indicate that generally the reverse is true. Government size is inversely linked to the level of corruption across nations.

You read that right — the size of the government is inversely linked to the level of corruption across nations. Meaning, as the size of the government grows, the level of corruption seems to go down.

If you had to guess, what would you say would be the most effective way to reduce corruption? There’s a strong hint in the title of the journal article. From the article [Emphasis Added]:

This study’s analysis suggests that an increase in nonprofit sector size should have the greatest anticorruption effect.

This study was done on a global-scale. Here’s a list of some of the countries that were included (there were 50 in all): Argentina, Canada, Denmark, India, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, and South Korea. The study also looked at corruption at the national level.

Maybe this is a good time to clarify that one can’t actually measure corruption as it happens because by definition, corruption happens in secret. In order to get around this, proxies like “Black Market” activity are used. In this study, the researchers relied on the “Corruption Perception Index.”

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Even with studies like this being published, I worry that folks hellbent on “drowning government in the bathtub” will continue to use corruption in the opening salvo. And when pressed to face the facts of studies like this, they’ll explain it away as not being “relevant” to the US. So, I’d really like to see a study that specifically looks at government corruption in the US. Again, I realize the limitations of taking on a research question like this, but I think it would be interesting to look at the level of corruption in local and state governments. In fact, I’m sure there’d be differences in the level of corruption when moving from state to state, but I wonder if the difference in corruption would be negligible or if we might find something substantial. More than that, I’d be interested to see if government corruption is more strongly linked to one party or the other.

ResearchBlogging.orgThemudo, N. (2014). Government Size, Nonprofit Sector Strength, and Corruption: A Cross-National Examination The American Review of Public Administration, 44 (3), 309-323 DOI: 10.1177/0275074012465791

Similarities & Differences of Religion & Spirituality in Public Administration Literature: Religion, Spirituality, and Public Administration, Part 3

In the first post of this series, we looked at the introduction and the first two articles from the paper. In the second post of the series, we looked at the three other articles that were examined in the paper. In this last section, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between these articles and wrap up the paper.

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Similarities and Differences

Spirituality and religion. Only Farmer (2005) failed to distinguish between spirituality and religion. In fact, Farmer failed to even mention spirituality. This might be because Farmer was interested in placing public administration theory in conversation with religion, rather than addressing the similarities between spirituality and religion. The other four articles had similar definitions and distinctions of religion and spirituality. It was made clear that these two concepts were very similar, but not the same. Whereas religion had more of a community focus, was more formal, and organized, spirituality was more individualistic, informal, and less systematic.

Religion, spirituality, and public administration theory. The biggest similarity of these five articles is that they are all making the case that religion should be studied in the context of public administration. Farmer (2005) argued that public administration had been studied in the context of postmodernism and critical theory, and so it should also be studied in the context of religion. King (2007), on the other hand, was more interested in how religion was influencing public administration today. Houston and Cartwright (2007) argued that spirituality had received attention in other disciplines like business and social work, so public administration should also study spirituality. Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) echoed Houston and Cartwright’s (2007) argument that other academic disciplines had studied religion and so should public administration. Freeman and Houston (2010) made the best case for studying religion and public administration through five arguments. In particular, the argument that the growing religious heterogeneity of the American population requires a more representative bureaucracy was particularly strong.

Model for religion-spirituality integration. Only King (2007) proposed (or adapted) a model for integrating religion and spirituality. King found many problems with adapting the model, most notably, the language. King felt that when religion is discussed in the context of public administration, people are quick to raise the point about the Constitution and the separation of church and state. On the point about the Constitution: Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) believed that these concerns have played a minor role. They argued that, among other things, secularization had more to do with religion not being discussed in the context of public administration.

1998 GSS. Two articles used data from the 1998 GSS to test hypotheses. Houston and Cartwright (2007) found that public sector workers were more spiritual than private sector workers and Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) found that public sector workers were more religious than private sector workers. Given the overlap in spirituality and religion, these results are unsurprising, but are noteworthy for the sake of consistency.

2004 GSS. Freeman and Houston (2004) used data from the 2004 GSS to test their hypotheses. They also confirmed the findings from the two articles that used the 1998 GSS. The two findings: public servant seem to have more spiritual attitudes than the public (Houston & Cartwright, 2007) and public servants are more religious and less secular than the public (Houston, Freeman, & Feldman, 2008). Their own hypotheses had to do with religious affiliation and the results indicated little difference between public servants and the general public.

Farmer’s 10 suggestions. There are a few of Farmer’s (2005) that are worth reviewing. “3) It is hard to know how to talk about religion objectively across a religious divide.” This suggestion gets to the same point raised in other articles about the Constitution and the ‘separation of church and state.’ Farmer made the argument that when not in the appropriate company, it can be difficult to broach the subject of religion. “5) It is easy to suppose that religion can participate in shaping the moral landscape.” This suggestion is pointing to the fact that maybe there are other (abortion and marriage being two of the main ones) central questions in the moral debate. Farmer suggested that ‘treatment of others’ might be one, but that it is hard to know without studying religion and public administration. “9) It is sensible to be self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, whether or not it is embarrassing.” It is easy to see where some people may whole-heartedly disagree with Farmer in being self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, but Farmer’s point is well taken. The argument parallels that which you would expect from a journalist to disclose their biases or ties to the subject of their article. Just as was gleaned from Freeman and Houston (2010), religion affects one’s attitudes and behaviors, so it seems natural that one would disclose this affiliation in the context of a scholarly discussion that included religion. The problem being that some might argue that it infringes on their right to privacy.

Conclusion

Prior to starting this project, it never occurred to me the various ways that religion could and does affect public administration. Like some of the articles have mentioned, I would have thought the ‘separation of church and state’ axiom would have kept people far away from doing research on religion and public administration. After reading through this small sample of public administration articles relating to religion, there certainly seems to be a strong argument in favor of studying public administration in the context of religion in a number of different ways.

References

Farmer, D. J. (2005). Talking about religion. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 27(1), 182-195.

Freeman, P. K., & Houston, D. J. (2010). Belonging, believing, behaving: The religious character of public servants. Administration & Society, 42(6), 694-719.

Houston, D. J., & Cartwright, K. E. (2007). Spirituality and public service. Public Administration Review, 67(1), 88-102.

Houston, D. J., Freeman, P. K., & Feldman, D. L. (2008). How naked is the public square? Religion, public service, and implications for public administration. Public Administration Review, 68(3), 428-444.

King, S. M. (2007). Religion, spirituality, and the workplace: Challenges for public administration. Public Administration Review, 67(1), 103-114.

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If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

Studying Religion & Spirituality in Public Administration: Religion, Spirituality, and Public Administration, Part 2

In the first post of this series, we looked at the introduction and the first two articles from the paper. In this next post in the series, we’ll look at the three other articles that were examined in the paper.

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Houston & Cartwright – Spirituality and Public Service (2007)

Houston and Cartwright (2007) argued that spirituality has received attention in the literature of other disciplines (e.g. business, social work, etc.), but not public administration. They found this odd given the roots of service at the core of public administration. Given the idea of ‘public service as a calling,’ they hypothesized that individuals in public service occupations are more spiritual than individuals in non-public service occupations. They highlighted four components of spirituality from the literature: 1) belief in transcendence; 2) interconnectedness; 3) empathy; and 4) a sense of life purpose or meaning.

To test their hypothesis, they used data from the 1998 GSS, which had questions pertaining to spirituality. There were over 1000 respondents included in this study. They found statistically significant evidence that those workers in the public sector are more spiritual than workers in the private sector. They also found that public sector workers were more likely to believe in transcendence, experience interconnectedness, have higher incidences of empathy, and have a greater sense of life meaning than their private sector counterparts.

Houston, Freeman, & Feldman – How Naked is the Public Square? (2008)

The central questions in Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008): 1) how religious are public servants; and 2) how secular are the attitudes held by public servants. Before answering these questions, the authors discussed how religion had been a topic of study for other academic fields, but not public administration. Instead of the argument put forth by King (2007) that the Constitution is a major factor in the lack of study of religion in public administration, Houston, Freeman, & Feldman (2008) argued different reasons: “1) acceptance of secularization theories by academics; 2) the epistemology adopted early on by scholars of public administration; 3) the characteristics of the Progressive Era of America, when the field of public administration developed; and 4) uneasiness with the recent surge in political activity by religious conservatives,” (p. 429).

Like Houston and Freeman (2007), Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) use data from the 1998 GSS to test their central questions. There were over 1000 respondents included in this study. The results showed that public servants tended to be more religious than their private sector counterparts. Public servants also tended to have less secular attitudes than did their private sector counterparts.

Lastly, Houston, Freeman, and Feldman conclude with five reasons why public administration should be studying religion: 1) public administration is missing from the debate of religious rhetoric in the political arena; 2) religion could play a key role in restoring civil society; 3) advocacy of faith-based initiatives in the delivery of social services; 4) religion is often left out of debates of multiculturalism; and 5) religion impacts a public manager’s behavior.

Freeman and Houston – Belonging, Believing, Behaving (2010)

Like the four other articles summarized above, Freeman and Houston (2010) made the case that it is important to study religion in the context of public administration. They did so through five arguments: 1) the prominence of religion in the delivery of public services; 2) the effectiveness of public services may be related to religion; 3) a representative bureaucracy should include religion; 4) “[the growing] religious heterogeneity of the American population has implications for the internal operations of public organizations;” (p. 698) and 5) religion affects one’s attitudes and behaviors in the workplace.

The central research question for Freeman and Houston (2010) was comparing the religious background, beliefs, and behaviors of public servants to the general public. Unlike Houston and Cartwright (2007) and Houston, Freeman, & Feldman (2008), Freeman and Houston (2010) use data from the 2004 GSS. There were over 2000 respondents included in this study. On religious affiliation, the results indicated little difference between public servants and the general public. The results also indicated that public servants were more active in and committed to their religious communities than the general public. The results from this study are consistent with Houston and Cartwright (2007) in that public servants seem to have more spiritual attitudes. The results from this study are also consistent with Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) in that public servants are more religious and less secular.

Religion and Spirituality in the Workplace: Religion, Spirituality, and Public Administration, Part 1

It’s not secret that one of my interests is spirituality. After having been exposed to a variety of spiritual traditions when I was young, I was naturally curious about some of the other ways that these experiences percolate in the population. This is, in part, the reason that I initially chose to do my PhD in clinical psychology at a school like Sofia University. It allowed for that exploration and more importantly, it teaches its students about the importance of recognizing/allowing this exploration in patients/clients.

During one of my last couple of classes at George Mason University, I had the opportunity to take a class in Administration in Public and Nonprofit Organizations. After having completed all of the business classes for the MBA program, I found it quite interesting to think about these principles in the context of public and nonprofit organizations.

One of the papers I wrote for that class looked at something that piqued my interest during the law/ethics requirement for the MBA — spirituality and religion in public administration. I remember considering the difficulties that managers might face depending on their level of cultural intelligence in a given situation. So, today, I thought I’d start another series where I share the pieces of that paper. Let’s look at the introduction and a couple of the first sections.

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The central theme of the five articles summarized is that there is an undeniable hole in the literature of religion and public administration. Most of the articles make it clear that there is a difference between religion and spirituality, but maintain that these two concepts are very closely related. Only in Farmer (2005) was the issue of spirituality not discussed, but there were 10 suggestions for thinking about public administration in the context of religion. King (2007) attempted to adapt a model of religion-spirituality integration from the business world to public administration and offered four caveats. Houston and Cartwright (2007) found evidence in the 1998 General Social Survey (GSS) that public administrators were more spiritual than their private sector counterparts. Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) also used data from the 1998 GSS and found that public servants tended to be more religious than their private sector counterparts. They also found that public servants tended to have less secular attitudes than did private sector employees. Freeman and Houston (2010) made the strongest case for studying religion and public administration through five arguments. They also used data from the 2004 GSS and found that public servants were more active in and committed to their religious communities than the general public. The results from Freeman and Houston (2010) are consistent with Houston and Cartwright (2007) in that public servants seem to have more spiritual attitudes. In addition, Freeman and Houston (2010) are also consistent with Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) in that public servants are more religious and less secular. In this paper, the articles are summarized in chronological order and contrasted with each other throughout. Following the summaries is a brief discussion of some of the similarities and differences.

Farmer – Talking About Religion (2005)

The central idea from Farmer (2005) was that the literature in public administration theory has failed to adequately address religion. Farmer argued that public administration has been studied in the context of critical theory and postmodernism, but not within the context of religion. He believes that religion is part of the context of public administration and as a result, should be studied.

He submitted that talking about religion in the context of public administration is difficult and offered 10 suggestions for thinking about public administration in the context of religion: “1) It is hard to know what religion is; 2) It is hard to know whether the separation of church and state is a done deal; 3) It is hard to know how to talk about religion objectively across a religious divide; 4) It is easy to suppose that religion is implicated in the constitutive magma of our society, and also a window toward understanding the constitutive framework; 5) It is easy to suppose that religion can participate in shaping the moral landscape; 6) It is easy to suppose that religion has both an up side and a down side, and that this down side is also part of our societal dynamic; 7) It is sensible to think that PA [public administration] should emulate religious ‘best business practice’ to the extent, at least, that religion is in competition with government; 8) It is sensible to think that PA should not be indifferent to the kinds of religious activities which exist in society; 9) It is sensible to be self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, whether or not it is embarrassing; [and] 10) It is lunatic to think in rigid boxes (boxism) [sic] about PA in its religious context,” (p. 182-3).

King – Religion, Spirituality, and the Workplace (2007)

Like Farmer (2005), King (2007) emphasized the lack of study of religion and public administration. Specifically, King was interested in the influence that religion had on public administration. King began with a brief literature review showcasing the differences between religion and spirituality in the context of the workplace. The key difference being that, “spirituality is distinct from but related to religion,” (p. 104). This led into the section where King discussed various court cases in which religious and/or spiritual expression was/were implicated: workplace cases, employers’ rights, employees’ rights, and political measures. King concludes this section by stating that one of today’s challenges for public administration is determining how these two concepts (religious and spiritual expression) fit together.

This led into a discussion of a model of religion-spirituality integration that came from the business world. King attempted to reconcile the differences with public administration and raised four problems: 1) public administrators are stereotyped by the values they seek; 2) how to account for the different aspects of a public administrator’s life (e.g. family, outside world, global context, etc.); 3) professional turf wars; and 4) language. The last problem is what King saw as the most important to public administration because whenever religion/spirituality are raised, people are quick to point to the Constitution and ‘the separation of church and state.’ King argued that this happens in discussions of administrative ethics, which usually pit utilitarianism (greatest good for greatest number of people) against deontology (universal principles of right and wrong). King’s main point here was that the language used in the debate of administrative ethics has a basis in sacred religious texts.

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Note: Check back tomorrow for the next section of the paper. I’ll include the list of references in the last post in the series.

Is Sunshine Really the Best Disinfectant: Edward Snowden, PRISM, and the NSA

In keeping with the theme from yesterday’s post about Edward Snowden and the leaks about PRISM and the NSA, I thought I’d share something that I was reminded of when I was watching some of the coverage of it earlier this week. Before doing that though, if you haven’t, and regardless of your position on whether he should or shouldn’t have done this, I would urge you to read the article and watch the clip about him in The Guardian.

A couple of days ago I happened to catch a segment of Morning Joe where one of the journalists who broke the story about the NSA, Glenn Greenwald, was on. The clip is about 20 minutes and there’s an interesting exchange between one of the hosts and Greenwald. The part I’d like to highlight today happens towards the end of the segment. I think it was Willie Geist who asked the question and included the phrase, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” in reference to getting the information about these programs out in the open. This reminded me of a paper I wrote for a Public Administration class and I thought it might be useful if I detailed some of the research I used for that paper.

The idea that “sunshine is the best disinfectant” with regard to public administration stems from the idea of government reform. In a 2006 paper in Public Administration Review, Paul C. Light defined four tides of government reform:

All government reform is not created equal. Some reforms seek greater efficiency through the application of scientific principles to organization and management, whereas others seek increased economy through attacks on fraud, waste, and abuse. Some seek improved performance through a focus on outcomes and employee engagement, whereas others seek increased fairness through transparency in government and access to information. Although these four approaches are not inherently contradictory — and can even be found side by side in omnibus statutes such as the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act — they emerge from very different readings of government motivations.

These approaches also offer an ideology for every political taste: scientific management for those who prefer tight chains of command and strong presidential leadership; the war on waste for those who favor coordinated retrenchment and what one inspector general once described as “ the visible odium of deterrence ” ( Light 1993 ); a watchful eye for those who believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant for misbehavior; and liberation management for those who hope to free agencies and their employees from the oppressive rules and oversight embedded in the three other philosophies. [Emphasis Added]

My point in sharing this article wasn’t to say that the idea that sunshine is the best disinfectant is good or bad, but merely to put it in context with some other ways of reforming government. You can decide for yourself which you prefer. In fact, there’s a handy table for differentiating the four:

The Four Tides of Reform

And one more interesting table that shows you how government reform in the US has changed since 1945:

Patterns in Reform Philosophy

Applying the Broken Windows Theory to Domestic Violence and Gangs

In my Public Administration class the other day, we were reviewing a case that played a role in the lead up to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passing in 1994. Reading about a man killing a woman when he was supposed to be in jail is heartbreaking. The case leads us to believe that bureaucracy played a role in the man not being in jail when he was supposed to be. I hear that argument, but I think it’s weaker than it lets on.

Anyway, during the ensuing discussion of this case (as viewed through the lens of Max Weber and bureaucracy), I was reminded of the broken windows theory:

The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

Meaning, if a window is broken, instead of waiting for months to fix it, fix it right away. In this way, it demonstrates to the surrounding area that this community is a place that takes care of itself — and by extension — isn’t a breeding ground for crime and unsightly behavior. The broken windows theory — on its own — doesn’t really apply to bureaucracy and VAWA. Remember that Mayor Giuliani made a big push in NYC to implement this theory. My thought was: why don’t we apply the principles of the broken windows theory to an order of magnitude above broken windows?

To expand: another reason offered as to why the man in the case above was able to kills his ex-girlfriend was because the authorities were busy focusing on the gangbangers. So, to apply the broken windows theory: focus on the domestic violence cases or those crimes that are perceived to be as lower priority than gangbangers and maybe the gangbanging will take care of itself? I want to emphasize that I’m not judging as to which is more important (gangbangers or domestic violence), but in the way that the priority is given to the gangbangers, I wonder if instances of domestic violence (or similar crimes) were focused on, would that then cut off the “supply” of those people who join gangs?

Quick Thoughts on “The Continuous Reinventing of the Machinery of Government”

I’m into the last semester of an MBA. For my last two electives, I chose courses that could serve me if I chose to be public servant or if I chose to get into the foreign service (I realize those aren’t mutually exclusive areas). My two electives are International Relations and Administration in Public and Nonprofit Organizations. The IR class is certainly challenging as I never had a political science class during my time as an undergraduate. The Public Admin. class has been really fun so far — I’m learning a lot about how the government functions (and doesn’t). I just finished reading one of the chapters for class tomorrow and I wanted to share a few excerpts and some thoughts. All excerpts come from Shafritz’s/Russel’s/Borick’s Introducing Public Administration, 8th edition, Chapter 3, “The Continuous Reinventing of the Machinery of Government.”

“More than 7 million Americans already live in such closed-off communities, and that number is expected to double over the next decade.” (p. 75)

“These new-fashioned feudalists, who are decidedly libertarian concerning the outside world, are surprisingly socialistic concerning the private, inside world of their gated min-cities.” (p.75)

This reminds of something I saw earlier this year. Glenn Beck wants to create his own city. I remember Jon Stewart doing a bit on Beck contrasting his anti-socialistic views for the outside world, but his downright socialistic tendencies when it came to being inside the walls of his city. This has a, “history repeats itself,” kind of feeling to it, doesn’t it? Not the Stewart bit on Beck, but that there’s a push (is there really?) to return to walled-off cities.

“Government entities, once established, tend to last a long time and not change easily.” (p. 79)

While understandable, it seems that there should be more innovation in the government, shouldn’t there? How can we get more innovation in the government, while carefully preserving those agencies that might quickly be lopped off before they’ve had the time to adequately effect the changes mandated of them?

“There is no federal Department of the Environment…” (p. 84)

Doesn’t this seem a bit unfortunate? Pres. Clinton tried to create this department under his administration, but — naturally — was met with opposition. I understand the fear of Big Government, but some things should transcend partisanship. The really twisted part — folks are calling for the Secretary of State to make climate change (!) his top priority! If there were a Department of the Environment, the Secretary of State could focus on other matters concerning the State. This issue seems misplaced. (Note: I should say that I still think it’s important for the Secretary of State to be concerned with climate change, but with a Department of the Environment, the issue would be more appropriately addressed.)

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There are almost 90,000 (!) governments in the United States when you include county, municipal, towns, school districts, and special districts. (p. 86)

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“Because few citizens ride horses to government offices today, it would seem to make a lot of sense to combine many counties and thus realize substantial savings from having fewer county clerks, county sheriffs, county courts, and so on. But which clerk, sheriff, or judge is going to quietly resign?” (p. 88)

This seems like a really important point. It seems to parallel a problem that is often faced in business — short-term profits vs. long-term gains. In this case, it would be taking short-term losses for long-term gains. If the government bought out those employees in areas where it were merging governments, there would likely be a substantial price tag. Although, in doing so, many (theoretically) efficiencies would be realized. Similarly, there would be a great deal of potential entrepreneurs (in those people who were just bought out). Of course, this is hastily laid out here, but it’d be an interesting proposal to have fleshed out.

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I find it odd that special districts have quadrupled since 1942 (now over 37,000), but school districts have shrunk by 90% (from 108,000 in 1942 to approximately 13,000 today). (p. 90-91)

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“Congress has never drawn — as the Brownlow Committee would have liked — a dichotomy between politics and administration.” (p. 105)

“Members thrive on bureaucratic red tape and the opportunities it creates for constituent service. This is why the ombudsman/ombudswoman movement has never gone very far in the US. This function is happily, even joyously, performed by the elected representatives. It is quite literally what their staffs spend most of their time on — because it is the key to reelection.” (p. 105)

Something’s wrong with this picture — assuming that the authors are correct in their assessment (in that this is what most members spend their time on). It reminds me of an idea I’ve heard before where those elected to Congress were only allowed 1 term (2 years) or something like it.

“To reinvent government, you must also reinvent Congress.” (p. 105)

Great idea! How do we do it?

“Privatization is almost always predicated on assumptions about public sector versus private sector efficiency and productivity rates. The burden of proof is often on public sector managers to explain why they are not inferior to private enterprise managers and why they should retain their functions in the face of private sector alternatives. Perhaps no responsibility is greater for public managers today than developing the evaluation and management assessment tools needed to assure critics that public sector programs and enterprises are being managed efficiently and effectively.” (p. 106)

This reminds me of the Project Management class I had this past Fall. The professor would often take us to the dashboards of the federal government showing us those projects that were on-time, behind schedule, under budget, over budget, etc. I wonder if this elaborate check/balance came as a result of those folks who were trying to prove that the public sector was efficient.

Maybe the burden of proof shouldn’t lie with the public sector. Maybe it should be more a of a philosophical debate. Do we think that these services should be provided by the private sector or by the public sector? And then take action from there.