Accountable Strategies blog

A blog about accountability issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors

Accountability in all three sectors

Posted by David Kassel on May 22, 2007

In an essay in PA Times, Christine Gibbs Springer muses on leadership and about how a public manager can build a “legacy” that is based on a sense of “vision” and “values.”

 A lot of scholarship is dedicated to leadership these days, and words like “legacy,” “vision,” and “values” are in vogue.  But Gibbs Springer does take it a step further by tying her discussion to the lack of confidence that so many Americans currently have in “the honesty, integrity, and ethics of leaders in sectors ranging from business and religion to all levels of government.”

That got me thinking that that’s what this blogsite is about–the restoration of honesty, integrity, and ethics in the governmental, business, and nonprofit sectors.  We do live in an age in which public confidence in our institutions and leaders appears to have reached an all-time low and yet still seems capable of continuing to drop.

We’ve all been taught in school that the American system of government, in particular, is fully accountable to us and that we should therefore have confidence in the fairness and ingegrity of the system.  Accountability, after all, implies the answerability of institutions and leaders to the public for all of their public actions.  And yet, polls show that most people don’t feel as though those institutions or leaders really are accountable to them. 

What is it that has gone wrong with our system, with the evolution of the social contract among government, the citizens, and business, as Allen White describes it,  and with the checks and balances that the founding fathers inserted so carefully in the Constitution?

It seems to me that any attempt to deal with those issues has to take into account all three of those basic sectors of society–government, business, and nonprofit–and the relationship of each to the citizenry.  I’ve noticed a growing number of blogs and websites devoted to accountability issues in individual sectors–the corporate sector in particular.  But not many blogsites appear to tie all of these issues together into an integrated whole.  That’s why I started this blog, because I suspect the problems among all three sectors are related.  Individual entries may concentrate on one or more sectors at a time, but I hope to continue to write about articles, events, and issues involving all three.

Your comments and contributed essays would be appreciated.  You can contribute entries via the “about” button above, and all acceptable contributions will be published with whatever username or byline you’d like to use.  I’ll periodically post synopses of the best comments and contributions (provided I get a few).

I’m not looking for essays that wade directly into politics, but more general discussions about how to restore honesty and integrity to any or all of these three sectors of society.

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2 Responses to “Accountability in all three sectors”

  1. ashok said

    Just wandered on in; very nice blog.

    What I would like to see is a proof that accountability is the central issue we’re facing. The reason why I say this is because there’s something loaded in the use of the word – to use the term is to already pass the blame onto someone else (in this case, “leaders”).

    Going back to the social contract idea, I would think that ultimate “accountability” lies with the people. Right now, I think the Democrats in Congress have been very responsive to – in fact, they seem to be a direct instantiation of – their base on the Internet. They seem to be a genuinely populist party. But it looks like their lack of success is more than an evil President with his evil advisors surrounding him plotting their destruction: it looks like the American system was set up in such a way that their ability to be successful in the system, even when representing popular will, is marginalized.

    And it would also seem that our Founders had a broader vision of accountability to the popular will, then, than any one segment of Americans could possibly conceive.

    I honestly don’t think ethics is that big a problem. There are corrupt politicians here and there, but they get rooted out and exposed the second the whiff of a hint of corruption hits.

    The problem is us. We’re not “accountable” to anyone, and so we’ve made politics a playground where we fight over trivial things and are unable to come fully to grips with the realities of war and maintaining a global presence, etc. The parties directly reflect what we want – the deep problem is that we don’t know what we want.

  2. David Kassel said

    Many good points made here. You’ve hit on what makes our democratic system so frustrating to so many. Yes, it’s responsive, but responsive to whom, and for what? One of the most helpful accounts I’ve found of how responsiveness and accountability function in our system can be found in a June 1987 paper in Public Administration Review.

    The article by Barbara Romzek and Melvin Dubnick is called “Accountability in the Public Sector: Lessons from the Challenger Tragedy.” Romzek and Dubnick suggest there are actually four types of accountability: legal, political, bureaucratic, and professional. As these authors note, there are costs associated with having multiple accountability systems. Being accountable politically, in particular, can make it more difficult to be accountable professionally or in other ways.

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