Budgeting is an integral part of public programs. The concept of budgeting emanates from the principle of scarce resource planning. According to Rubin, budgeting helps in efficient allocation of scarce resources and suggests choice between potential objects of expenditure (Stillman II, 2009). Public budgeting is essential as public administration have limited resources that need to be allocated to public programs. The prioritising of public programs in line with what the citizens want and required fund allocation to carry out the programs effectively constitutes the essence of public budgeting. However, as argued by Rubin, there are challenges of public accountability and public acceptability in public budgeting (Stillman II, 2009). The paper attempts to discuss this challenge faced in public budgeting. The paper is broadly divided into four parts. The first section discusses the challenge of public accountability and public acceptability. The second section provides an illustration in support of the point. The third section illustrates a real-life scenario to support the point. The fourth section concludes the paper.
Public Accountability and Public Acceptability
This section of the paper deals with the chief concern in public budgeting, which is the issue between public accountability and public acceptability. Public budgeting is different from an individual or family budgeting as, in the former, the payer for the budget is distinct from the decider who prepares the budget and allocates funds. Thus, the payer and decider are separated, which brings focus to public acceptability and accountability (Stillman II, 2009). Public accountability means that the decider, the government official responsible for preparing budgets, needs to justify the public money spent and substantiate that it is spent as per the agreed terms. Public acceptability means that the public budgeting and allocation of public resources should be acceptability to the public, the payer for the public budgets. A budget planner or decider is a representative elected by the payer and is under constant pressure to prepare budgets that public wants.
But, there are some major issues with respect to public accountability and public acceptability structure in public budgeting. First, public demands are not clearly articulated and communicated to the decision makers. The resulting information asymmetry potentially creates a gap between public needs and budget allocation. Second, public needs are diverse in nature. Public is not a homogenous group, but comprises of people with conflicting interests. This makes it difficult to prepare a budget that pleases all. Public budgeting cannot be based on ‘one size fits all’ strategy.
Third, the different interest groups also differ in their possession of power. The power differential ensures that the needs of some interests groups are given more importance than the needs of other interest groups. Hence, the attempts made by different interest groups to ensure the outcome of budget in their favour complicated the budgeting process. Fourth, given the budget constraint, it is difficult to satisfy all interest group during public budgeting. This makes it difficult for the decision makers to prepare an unbiased budget as their power and authority is at stake. Fifth, since it is difficult to keep everyone happy, politicians are under tremendous pressure to hide critical facts about public budgeting or distort information or fabricate facts to ensure public acceptability. Thus, while politicians or public representatives are accountable to public, functioning in an unbiased and open manner becomes difficult for them to gain public acceptability. This makes the issue of public accountability, coupled with public acceptability, chief tension for the decision makers.
Death of a Spy Satellite: An Illustration
The illustration of ‘Death of a Spy Satellite’ is an apt example of the argument that the chief tension in public budgeting is between public accountability and public acceptability (Stillman, 2009). There are three distinct groups in this case, the public, the contractor and the government. The chief tension in public budgeting is manifested in the illustration in many ways. First, in spite of the budget constraint, the government persisted that the satellite be built with supreme technology. Given the power differential between the government and the contractor, the contractor was forced to make unrealistic promises. In an attempt to gain public acceptability, the focus of the project was kept very that was impossible to achieve with the kind of money available. Thus, the project was bound to fail. Such inefficiencies are a common outcome in public budgeting process.
Second, Boeing was inexperienced in the field of launching such intelligent technology. But, rather than closing monitoring the contractor’s performance, the government resorted to shifting the monitoring responsibility to Boeing itself. The move of the government, though not acceptability for public good, was in line with the new policy for military projects. Hence, the government could not be held accountable for it. Third, to ensure that the public does not question the project and its inefficiencies, government compromises with project transparency and its openness to public. The story behind that failure has remained largely hidden, like much of the workings of the nation's intelligence establishment (Taubman, 2007). Overall, the failure of such projects can be attributed to the public accountability and public acceptability characteristic of public projects. It creates a lot of pressure for the people’s representative to be able to act in people’s best interest without compromising on budget effectiveness. Also, such initiatives distance public from their representative.
An Illustration from Personal Experience
I experienced a similar incidence that supports Rubin’s argument on public budgeting and its chief stress. The streets in my locality were in terrible shape that made travel inconvenient for common people. The situation worsened in rainy season. On analysing the situation, I made the following observation. Looking at the budget document for that fiscal year, it was surprising to note that there was not dearth in allocation of budget for infrastructure development. But, somehow the benefits had not trickled down to my locality. During a bus ride, I observed that the problem of terrible roads in not uniformly distributed across the city. The affluent areas and the key market places have beautiful roads. I conclude that different actors in the budgeting process and its beneficiaries have varying degree of influence on the process. Because the affluent segment and businessmen had more say, they reaped better benefits. Here, public acceptability was related to the people who actually come forward to voice their opinion. Such issues are common in public budgeting.
Public budgeting is aimed at benefitting the public, who pay in the form of tax to fund for these budgets. However, accrual of benefits and ensuring project efficiency is not always targeted to the public. The dynamics and fear of public accountability and acceptability, influence the people’s representatives resort actions that are inefficient and not in the larger good of people.
Stillman II, Richard Joseph (2009). Public Administration: Concepts and Cases (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Taubman, Philip (2007). In Death of a Spy Satellite Program, Lofty Plans and Unrealistic Bids. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/washington/11satellite.html?pagewanted=all