IPMN Newsletter Fall 1998

Larry Jones

Membership in IPMN continues to grow. We now have memers from approximately 36 nations. While this is short of the roughly 180 nations that belong to the United Nations, we are making progress. IPMN also has grown in another way. We are pleased to welcome a number of new members to the International Public Management Journal editorial board including Robert Behn, Duke University (USA), Elio Borgonovi, Bocconi University (Italy), Jonathan Boston, Victoria University of Wellington (NZ), Christopher Hood, London School of Economics and Political Science (UK), Albert Hyde, The Brookings Institution (USA), Klaus Luder, Speyer University (Germany), and H. Brinton Milward, University of Arizona (USA). All of these new members are highly regarded scholars and add considerable strength to our IPMJ Board. Volume I, No. 2 of IPMJ is due to be out from the publisher by the end of November.

IPMN has sponsored events at two conferences in the U.S. recently in part to interest new scholars to join our network. The first of these events was held at the annual national conference of the Association for Public Policy and Management (APPAM) in New York City, October 28-31. IPMN sponsored a roundtable session entitled "Does NPM Compromise Democracy?" This session featured a dialogue between Professor Fred Thompson, Willamette University and Lawrence E. Lynn, Jr., University of Chicago.

Topics covered in the dialogue included alternative definitions of public management, and perspectives on how public management ought to be taught. On the issue of NPM and democracy, Lynn asserted that NPM has the potential to compromise participative democracy and democratic institutions because of the delegation of policy making authority towards managers and away from elected officials.

Thompson responded that NPM attempts to enable governments to better serve citizens in part by conceiving of them as customers whose needs and preferences must be understood and met. In this respect NPM attempts to enhance direct democracy by making governments more responsive to citizens.

Lynn did not dispute that this could be true, but countered that even if NPM succeeded in increasing responsiveness, many "customers" would not be better served, e.g., those who do no express their demands effectively. In this group he included children and families who require social assistance provided through various government programs. Lynn's view is that in provision of public or quasi-public goods, NPM's emphasis on what critics have termed "neo-managerialism" tends to place too much emphasis on improving government "efficiency" or "cost-effectiveness" at the expense of improving the quality of social assistance and other services. He conceded to Thompson's argument that NPM could and should attempt to improve government operational efficiency, but that this was not enough; that trading-off attention to efficiency tends to decrease government attention to legitimate social welfare and other policy issues requiring the attention of elected officials.

Thompson responded that he was not concerned, nor did he believe that in many instances public managers needed to think about larger issues of public policy because this is the domain and responsibility of elected officials, i.e., to set policy goals. The job of the manager is to implement policy and programs well. He advised that elected officials need to define policy and program initiatives in ways that can be measured so that managers have clearer signals as to what they should do, and that elected officials should be willing to delegate more authority to managers to achieve policy ends in their own way once policy goals have been identified and resources allocated to seek specific outcomes.

A significant amount of attention in this dialogue was devoted to discussion of the application of NPM methods to the management aspects of national defense, where Lynn and Thompson agreed that better management was needed to improve "business practices" and organizational efficiency in the services that support military operations.

Professor David Weimer, University of Rochester, served as discussant and asked the panelists to respond to several question including, "How do we define public management as a disciplinary field distinct from public policy or traditional public administration?" The responses to this question are too long to repeat here but, the Thompson-Lynn dialogue will be posted under the working papers section of this website so that IPMN members may assess for themselves the contrasting views of the panelists (see also the article by Robert D. Behn in the next issue of IPMJ). Audience participation in this session was active.

A second IPMN event was convened at the national conference of the Association for Budgeting and Financial Management (ABFM) in Washington, D.C. on November 5-7. IPMN sponsored the plenary session leading off the conference. The plenary featured presentations by Professor John Wanna, Griffith University (Australia) on National Government Budgeting in Australia, Professor John Mikesell, Indiana University (USA) on Financial Reform in Russia and Other Republics of the Former Soviet Union, Professor Hugh Hinton, Fulbright Scholar on Budgeting in Ukraine, and Professor Bruce Wallin, Northeastern University on Financial Control and Budget Reform in Japan. We will to mount these papers on this website as soon as they are received from the authors.

Based upon the presentations and discussions at the APPAM and ABFM conferences I am willing to offer the following observations about apparent trends in the field of public management:

1. Academics are becoming increasingly cautious about application of ideas from New Zealand and the "New Zealand model" to other venues. A number of scholars have commented upon the uniqueness of the New Zealand circumstance that makes it difficult to compare NZ to other nations or governments.

2. As noted by a number of authors in the book produced from the first IPMN conference (L. R. Jones and Kuno Schedler, eds., International Perspectives on the New Public Management. Greenwich: CT: JAI Press, 1997), NPM-oriented reforms have swept the world. The issue is not about whether change has occurred or about the direction of change generally but about the effects and outcomes resulting from the wide variety of initiatives undertaken.

3. While the pace of reform, by whatever name, has varied widely throughout the world, change is penetrating even to nations where formerly little reform was anticipated, e.g., in China and Japan, at national levels in Germany, France and Italy, in Russia and Ukraine, in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

4. In some nations where reform has been much heralded, little change of a substantive nature beyond budget reduction and alteration of the control relationships between national and regional, state and local governments has occurred. The National Performance Review in the US has not succeeded in reaching its objectives to any degree. In the UK, Whitehall has protected itself and national government from many if not most of the reforms forced upon subordinate governments. This list is growing as critics in Sweden, Canada, Australia and elsewhere inquire more deeply into the real outcomes of reform initiatives.

5. Australian and New Zealand critics are asking serious questions about the success of major public utility privatization in the wake of electricity failures and production cutbacks in Auckland, Melbourne, Brisbane and elsewhere, and water quality problems in Sydney.

6. New Public Management is not so new in two respects. Many of the reforms labeled as NPM have been tried before either prior to or after World War II, e.g., performance measurement and budgeting in the 1950s in the US and other nations, or contracting-out which has been routine in governments worldwide, in some instances since the late 19th century. Secondly, eight years have passed since Professor Christopher Hood coined the term NPM in his article published in 1991 ("A Public Management for all Seasons." Public Administration, vol. 69/1 [spring], pp. 3-20.). How long does a "new" trend remain new? What is the "shelf life" of government reform initiatives? Is it appropriate to speak of "new" public management in the UK, Sweden or Australia where roughly similar reform initiatives have been pursued since the late 1970s or early1980s?

7. Discussion about what ought to be taught in a public management curriculum is lively, with wide variation in preferred core focus and course composition. There is no singular definition for public management as a discipline and, therefore, there is not much uniformity in views about what should be taught.

While few of these observations may be revelations to members of IPMN, they may serve as food for thought as we continue to assess change and its outcomes in the public sector into the next century.

As usual, comments on these observations are welcomed as directed to me, to my fellow IPMN Coordinator and colleague Kuno Schedler, or to the IPMN membership at large.

Best Regards,
Larry Jones
Wagner Professor of Public Management and
IPMN Coordinator

Updated September 03, 1999

Last updated: May 28 2015