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Accountability and Institutional Design: some thoughts on the grammar of governance

Professor Jerry Mashaw
Yale Law School
Email: jerry.mashaw@yale.edu| 

: 25 May 2004
: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
: CARR Seminar Room, H615


Accountability is a protean concept, a placeholder for multiple contemporary anxieties. Worried about the arrogance and inefficiency of government bureaucrats? The problem, as conventionally stated, is that unelected bureaucrats are not politically or economically accountable. Shocked that private contractors are running prisons, dispensing welfare benefits and planning defence strategies? That alarm is almost certainly traceable to the suspicion that placing these activities in private hands allows them to escape the political and legal accountability processes that normally surround exercises of domestic public power.

My first objective, therefore, is to argue for a way of thinking about accountability that provides some analytic purchase when sorting through myriad claims of accountability deficits, and to present a partial taxonomy of accountability regimes. The paper then seeks to illustrate the way this conceptual framework of accountability, a sort of grammar of governance for addressing accountability issues, can be deployed in a contemporary arena of increasing importance and widespread dispute: contracted out governance. I have chosen to highlight two subjects, privatised prisons, and contracted out adjudication of disability claims, in order to illustrate two general points about accountability and institutional design. The first, the prisons case, illustrates how careful attention to design can ameliorate accountability problems that at first blush might seem so substantial as to foreclose serious consideration of contracted out governance in this arena. The second, disability adjudication, is intended to illustrate the complex interrelationship of different forms of accountability in a highly contracted out system, along with some of the difficulties and unanticipated accountability consequences of particular design choices.