According to Denhardt and Denhardt (2012), the main role of public servants is to assist citizen’s articulate as well as meet shared interests rather than attempting to steer of control society. However, today there is a tug of war between public management that steers and that that rows. Nye identifies three trends that have resulted in the decentralization or diffusion of government and society. These include globalization, information revolution and marketization. Public administrators are, therefore, left with the task of ensuring equity, service effectiveness and efficiency.
A public service like building inspection by government agencies should be available throughout the country so as to ensure that buildings that come up are safe for use by the general public. However, efficiency, as noted by Landau is not always seen as being desirable. It has been replaced by redundancy as firms and public institutions look for profitability. In this regard, they are “steering rather than rowing”. Building inspection is a process which may require extensive investment of time and other resources. However, the budgetary allocations for building inspection agencies may not be excessive, thereby necessitating efficiency in operations and inspection processes. In the pursuit of efficiency, the agencies may fail to adequately inspect structures erected in residential or commercial areas. This failure may result in accidents which could have been avoided if public management is conducted with consideration of the welfare of the general public.
If efficiency becomes the dominating criterion for effective public management, the society loses several values such as equity, democracy, and citizen participation. The importance of public values should not be underestimated. Because of the forces of globalization, information revolution and marketization, public administrators should insure service delivery equity. This means providing equal access to safety services meant for the public. An example of a situation whereby efficiency has been chosen over society value is that in Swaine (2010) where Tennessee Firemen ignore a burning house due to unpaid subscription fees. This is the outcome of having pure business practices dominating the design of service delivery by the government.
However, all is not lost in the public management field. Denhardt & Denhardt (2012) speaks of “New Public Service” whereby rather than majoring on controlling bureaucracies in the delivery of services, public administrators are beginning to effect positive change. Service diffusion or decentralization may be achieved through accountability, transparency and adoption of guiding values (Shafritz & Hyde, 2012). This has been explained as “rowing” because it is the general public who own “the boat”. The New Public Management comprises of carrying out a set of values and there are several guiding tenets that have been lauded by the New Public Management as being critical to this shift. These include valuing neutral competence and political neutrality; direct service delivery in centralized bureaucracy; implementation of programs via top-down control methods and enabling transparency as much as possible. Democratic citizenship should also be involved as an important part of public management. This is because democratic citizenship allows for involved and reinvigorated citizen participation in decision-making and discourse on issues that impact on their well-being. This will increase the accountability of public to effectively contributing to the service diffusion or decentralization. Deinhardt & Deinhardt (2012) assert that the approach to accountability may be achieved through a market-driven process of service delivery as this will lead to outcomes that are desired by a wide group of citizens.
Denhardt, R. B., & Denhardt, J. V. (2012). The New Public Service: Serving Rather Than Steering. Public Administration Review, 60(6), 549-559.
Shafritz, J. M., & Hyde, A. C. (2012).Classics of Public Administration. NY: Wadsworth Learning.
Swaine, J. (2013, January 1). Tennessee Firemen ignore burning house over unpaid subscription fee - Telegraph.Telegraph.co.uk - Telegraph online, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph - Telegraph. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8039814/Tennessee Firemen-ignore-burning-house-over-unpaid-subscription-fee.html