Question One: Public Budgeting
The budgeting process goes through different stages. It goes through five strands namely the decision making, revenues, processes, balance and implementation. In all these process, Rubin asserts that the chief tension would often be between public accountability and public acceptability. While public accountability refers to the implementation of the budget through expenditure as agreed in the budget, public acceptability refers to the concept of incurring expenditure as per the wishes of the people, that is, the taxpayers. However, the budget process is complex and complicated making the interface between public acceptability and public accountability uneasy. It is on that premise that Rubin asserts that tension does exist between public accountability and public acceptability.
Public accountability emanates from the public nature of the budget process and the fact that subject matter often is a matter of public concern. The public is the tax payers and is entitled to information on how its funds are utilized. In addition, the public as the main player of the budget process, being the consumer as well as the payer for the services and projects, often has an interest in the budget. However, what brings the budget fully to the domain of the public is its political character. Foremost, it must be appreciated that budgets are often prepared and approved by various members of the legislatures and the executive. These members are often directly or indirectly elected or in government courtesy of the public. For that reason they owe the public some degree of loyalty and legitimate expectation. It is out of this that they seek to set the budget in line with the wishes and aspirations of the public. The public being the taxpayer needs to be made aware and cognizant of the uses of its funds. It must be informed of how and why its funds were utilized.
Public accountability is equally founded on the concept of democracy and public participation. In that context, Rubin observes that the budget as been used as a tool of compromise, strategy and bargaining. The budget is an expression of the government choices. It shows what the government intends to do and what it intends not. It equally shows what the government has prioritized and what it sees as auxiliary. It should, therefore, be a reflection of the people’s wishes. Public accountability serves as the process used for confirming the conformity to the people’s wishes. This operates as the nexus between public accountability and public acceptability. However, one needs to appreciate the diverse interests of the citizenry. As much as the citizenry are pitted against the government in ensuring public accountability in the budget process, the matters of public acceptability often splits the citizenry. It would often be the case that the budget would address the wishes of a section of the public and leave out that the other. This leads to protestations from the neglected portion and approval by the covered portion. The best approach in seeking public acceptability is to balance the interests of the citizenry. As noted above, the budget expresses the choices and prioritization of government. Its shows what the government considers essential and what it considers auxiliary. For government to receive the maximum support and resonate well with near one hundred percent acceptability it must apply a utilitarian approach to budgeting. It needs to attempt to impress as many people as possible and limit the disadvantaged. This process is often delicate and needs to be thoroughly analyzed and considered.
This is the tension between accountability and acceptability. In addition, in some cases it would be the case that the budget entertains deviations at the implementation level. This would affect public accountability. However, it would only be problematic if such entertained deviations are not acceptable within the public. In most cases the deviations are often acceptable hence limiting any opposition by the citizenry. This essentially attests to the fact that public acceptability may be more important that public accountability. As much as the public are in support of the process, the issue of accountability often remains within the legal realms. In that realization, the government attempts to conform to the matter of acceptability. This necessarily forces the government to impress on the citizenry by concentrating on their wishes and observing the desirable constraints in the budget process. In the long run, the budget process suffices for the utilization and expenditure of the tax-payers’ money. Interestingly, a distinction exists between the payer and the decider in matters of budget. While the citizenry pay the taxes, the decision making is left with chief executives, legislators and a few interest groups. This practice continues to create the need for public acceptability for it is only through such that the tax-payer has a say on the manner in which the public coffers need to be applied. This equally leads to the tension between accountability and acceptability. However, with the current trends, the government has tended to concentrate more on the issue of public acceptability rather than public accountability perhaps in realization of the political consequences thereof.
The death of the satellite spy perhaps illustrated the relative tension between public acceptability and public accountability. In that case, the public felt the spending in the spying agency was unnecessary and merely a deviation from the main tasks that the government had. In the public’s opinion, the funds needed to have been spent in other productive areas and the matters of spying limited. However, the same public that thought the spending was unnecessary demanded questions as to why things went wrong. This latter direction relates to public accountability while the earlier thought relates to public acceptability. In asking questions on what went wrong, the public was merely conforming to its role in the budget process. The public’s role is to demand that implementation of the budget proceeds as agreed and that any deviations be entertained only to the extent necessary. This role is left to the legislators. They need to ensure that public accountability is implemented to the letter. The government must convince the legislators on issue of supplementary budgets or appropriations. This is necessary for the simple reason that in democracies the legislators plays the check and balances role to the executive. As representatives of the people they need to ensure that public acceptability and public accountability correlate and that the tension is as minimal as possible. This would be for the overall good of the citizenry. In the long run, it is how much tension has been imposed on the executive as the implementer that would determine the level of conformity to the budget during implementation.
Question two: Reinventing School Lunch Program
The National School Lunch Program reinvention suffices in many ways to illustrate the concept of issue networks as propounded by Professor Heclo. The idea behind issue networks is an understanding of the power relations and the nature of interests at the policy level. In that context, it is essential to appreciate the political administrative relations and the power politic in its operations. The Lunch program shows this aspect in many ways. For instance, the appreciation of the many conflicting interests in the program serve to show the complexity that often characterizes administrative duties. It is incumbent on the administrator to appreciate the power dynamic and the body politic. In the School Lunch Program, the interests spanned from a large section with each groups interested in the process to see to it that their wishes prevailed. This subjected the process to bureaucracy and delay which in the end threatened the successful implementation of the program.
However, the lesson which has its foundation in Heclo’s issue networks could be captured in the fact that successful navigation necessitated an understanding of the system compounded by consistent and effective leadership. Take for example the fact that policy changes were primarily left for the United States Department of Agriculture. While the USDA appreciated the essence of the process, they declined through their action to act immediately and with the effectiveness necessary. Instead, the successful introduction of the Lunch Program changes had to wait for the appointed of Ellen Haas to the position of Assistant Secretary in the Department of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. This laxity seen in the operations of USDA is a perfect example of the power relations that define some of the administrative roles that administrators face on a day to day basis.
As Heclo suggests issue networks entails an appreciation of the advocacy coalitions. It is important to note that these coalitions could be pulling to different sides with each expecting to succeed in the end. The School Lunch Reinvention Program again comes into perspective at this juncture. The interests groups in this context spanned the Legislators in-charge of budgets, to the health activist groups such as the Public Voice for Food and Health Policy. It is, therefore, the function of the administrator to identify and recognize the power dynamics in these interests groups. An administrator needs to appreciate that despite the right or the wrong being as clear as day and night, the policy formulation and implementation would likely go towards the interest group that has more power. In the end, therefore, the winner in the policy formulation in terms of direction and implementation often is the powerful and not necessarily the right one. For that reason, the administrator needs to strike a compromise between being morally right and being politically correct. In my opinion, it would be essential for the policy administrator to enter into coalitions with the parties that seem to have the power. In entering into the coalition, it would be incumbent for the administrator to convince the power players of the essential elements and the general direction policy formulation needs to take. This would enable the successful attainment of the important elements of the project at whatever level of administration.
The issue networks theory advocates for an appreciation of the power system in the political administrative framework. It demands for the comprehensive application of advocacy skills and negotiations in any policy formulation and implementation system. In that context, in matters concerning the training of public administrators, it would be useful for the administrators to be made aware of the various elements and issues in the policy formulation process. It would be useful for the administrators to understand the power dynamic and learn how to handle the advocacy coalitions. The success or failure thereof of a policy whether at the formulation stage or the implementation stage will depend on the reception given by the stakeholder concerned. It would, therefore, be necessary for administrators to approach policy formulation and implementation from a point of information and knowledge by ensuring that the parties attendant to the policy have their input incorporated and considered. This participation process needs to be consultative and all-inclusive so as to get everyone on board. However, the administrator needs to be made aware that consensus may not always be the case. The Lunch Program is a good example to show the conflicts that could potentially arise even where it was not expected. It would not only be impossible for all parties interests to be taken into consideration, but the policy could equally occasion cases where some privileges are tamped with. It is this latter group of persons and bodies that need to be heard and considered in more detail. However, in cases where compromising their interests is inevitable in the interest of the success of the policy, the administrators need to be made aware of the need to carry on unperturbed. The approach taken by Ellen Haas suffices as the best example to illustrate that. In the long run, some of the interests of the advocacy groups would prove to be merely selfish and personal and hence can be compromised.
However, this should not be read that the theory of issue networks alters the jobs, tasks and roles performed by administrators. This clarification is important in appreciation of the principles of public administration. One of the arguments that have prevailed over time often is that public administration should be devoid of politics. In that context, it would be useful for policy formulators, that is, the administrators to divorce policy negotiations from political actions. The administrators need to stick to their script and offer their services only within the purview of public administration. They need not play into the murky waters of politics. The fact of joining the winning political side should only be informed by the need to realize the right objectives of the policy. Otherwise, the administrators must remain loyal to the principles of public administration. In addition, their service delivery and discharge must be in consonance with their normal day to day duties and tasks in public administration. The issue networks theory only calls for the pragmatic realization of policy implementation through compromise with the political relation.
Finally the theory of issues networks read in connect with the Reinventing the Lunch Program case has changed my opinion on what one needs to know for effectiveness in public administration. This is essentially because of my appreciation of the advocacy coalitions. In the previous contexts one would have easily been led to believe that public administration is purely non-political. However, the theory of issue networks introduces the interface between public administration and the body politic. It suggests that an appreciation of the power relations in the context of formulation and implementation is essential for the final successful oversight of the policy. The Lunch Program attests to this concept. From the lunch program, I have learnt the essential role dialogue and consultation plays. In addition, an administrator must be focused and well prepared for the job. The leadership provided by Ellen Haas is illustrative in the case. Her able leadership and direction shows the role administrators can play in getting the political powers on board for eventual success. In addition, I have learnt the place of bureaucracy in the administrative process. While the inventor of the bureaucracy had the good faith objective of ensuring order and certainty in systems, the power grab and corrupt administrators have used the very bureaucracy to abuse the system of its efficiency and effectiveness. It is, therefore, important that administrators learn how to apply bureaucracy only in the right manner and for the best interests of the majority. While the administrative function in policy formulation and implementation may seem boring and hard, the administrators can play their part effectively to make their work interesting and useful in the overall pursuit of public interests. This needs to be read in line with the overall object that reigns in public administration. The function of public administration remains that of giving services to the citizenry. Although the stakes and interests often remain high in public matters, public administrators must be conscious of the need to deliver services to the citizenry. The service must be the best available. It is on that premise that Ellen Haas succeeded in reinventing the Lunch Program.
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