"The False Promises of Accountability." Remarks prepared for delivery at 66th Annual National Conference on Public Administration, Milwaukee, WI, April 3, 2005.
"If I were asked to provide a label that would best characterize what's been taking place not only in our field but also in the general realm of what we now call 'governance', I would quickly respond with one word: accountability. To some extent this would be a reflection of my own obsession with this concept over the past three decades, but I think I'd be able to make a pretty powerful case for the argument that this particular term has become a pervasive presence in almost every discussion of contemporary governance. All you need to do is listen to a daily news broadcast or Google the term to realize just how central this one particular word it is in our discussions about politics, government and administration. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that at least in a nominal way, we have entered the 'age of accountability'.
"It might be assumed that for someone like me who's been so involved in the study of accountability all this attention to my subject would be welcomed news. But in fact quite the opposite is true. For what passes as accountability in most discussions today is merely meaningless rhetorical babble for the most part, and in those instances where a serious attempt is made to try to use so-called accountability to achieve some positive objective, one can only point to failures -- or much worse. That's where I want to focus our attention today. "