"Accountability as a Meta-Problem," Prepared for presentation at Minnowbrook III –Phase II, The Future of Public Administration, Public Management, and Public Service Around the World, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Lake Placid, September 5-7, 2008


Notwithstanding our collective failure to define the term to the satisfaction of all, decades of focused attention on accountability have at the least made us aware of those conditions that have made our task so challenging. What we have learned about our subject can be summarized as follows:
Accountability is multifunctional
Accountability is polymorphic
Accountability is situated
Accountability is promiscuous
In what follows I will briefly consider each of these "features" of accountability and conclude by offering a radically different approach to our subject that might help us emerge from the intellectual rut of typologies and cases that we now seem to occupy. I argue that by refocusing our view of accountability – by seeing it in the broader historical context of what I term "meta-problems" – we will be able to take the study of accountability to a different and more fruitful level. As a demonstration of the "meta-problem" perspective's potential, I offer a retelling of one watershed historical episode. I conclude with some brief observations.