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Politics, Administration, and Markets : Conflicting Expectations and Accountability

Donald E. Klingner, John Nalbandian and Barbara R. Romzek

Politics can be viewed as the search for consensus on underlying values to foster a sense of community. This search challenges contemporary political and administrative leadership because the policy process increasingly involves interactions among amorphous and unstable issue-oriented coalitions rather than a smaller number of actors with more stable and predictable roles. Within this volatile political climate, increased emphasis on market-based values and privatization as one manifestation of the new public management (NPM) has complicated expectations of accountability for public managers beyond the relationships represented by traditional notions of politics and administration.

This article discusses politics, administration and markets as separate ways of thinking -as decision-making perspectives- that produce a variety of expectations of accountability, often at odds. It presents a case study involving contracting out of foster care services in Kansas to illustrate these competing perspectives, and examines how market-based challenges to traditional political and administrative perspectives complicate expectations of accountability. The result is a situation where the challenge of accommodating three crosscutting expectations of accountability (derived from the three competing perspectives of politics, administration and markets) makes the already-complex job of public management even more difficult.

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