Public administration diverges from public accountability in that the former refers to rules and regulations, while the latter points to results and reward (or retribution). One mostly involves things, the other people. One is physical, the other organic. One is not relevant, much less successful, without the other.
Approaches to public administration and accountability differ between the United States and France due to each nation’s diverging political philosophies and constitutional systems, both a reflection of their people, culture and history. Each country can study and learn from the other’s respective public responsibility frameworks, and their major elements of integrity, ethics, transparency, governance, and performance.
France with its more egalitarian conceptualization of democracy, and centralized political and bureaucratic systems of preference, emphasizes universality based on law as a major organizational principle. This manifests itself as equality and solidarity in the arena of ethics, as stability and continuity in the area of governance, and parliamentary control with decentralized decision-making, when couched in terms of performance and results.
The Americans, preferring pluralistic democracy, have established their governmental institutions in their federalist principles and concept of shared power through checks and balances. This translates into an ethical framework based on individual rights and personal accountability, a governing framework which considers local representation and citizen participation, and a performance model focused, much like the French, on ensuring a common understanding of and commitment to the political and bureaucratic intent (i.e., goals and priorities) of elected and appointed officials.
In this last category regarding performance and results, both countries, as nations of consent, appear to be equally concerned about transparency and the open sharing of information. Unfortunately, both seem to be equally unconcerned about eliciting and incorporating the considerations of the general public in the development of government goals, objectives, and associated indicators of success.
Ultimately, Americans can learn a lot from the more mature, sophisticated and robust systems of French public administration.
More specifically, the United States should consider French philosophy, methods and practices in the development, implementation, and measurement of the effectiveness of US homeland security policy and strategy, mitigating its current challenges involving consistency, continuity, collaboration, connectivity and communication in line with America’s foundational principles of federalism, the separation of powers, and self-governance.
It is thought that public accountability, distilled down to its essence as “who is responsible to whom for what, and through what means,” is an area in the domain of public administration that would benefit the most from the study and research of other nations’ best practices. President Woodrow Wilson, who spearheaded the development of the modern administrative state along with other early 20th Century Progressives, was quoted as saying that “nowhere in the whole field of politics, it would seem, can we make use of the historical, comparative method more safely than in this province of administration.” More specifically, he thought that the rather rudimentary American systems and practices would be enriched by borrowing from the Prussian and French (i.e., Napoleonic) models.
Almost 100 years earlier, Alexis de Toqueville, actively involved in the French politics of his time, wondered himself at the immature, patchwork, even haphazard approach to governing adopted by the Americans, whom he considered to be a fairly evolved people, modern in almost every other respect:
The public administration is, so to speak, oral and traditional. But little [in the United...
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