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Who Is Accountable? To Whom? For What? How?

Published: Dec 06, 1979. Publicly Released: Dec 06, 1979.
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Although accountability in American Government is what citizens demand today, it is not the positive force that it could be. The responsibilities of those accountable are often not clearly defined and those to whom the accountable ones answer often lack information needed to understand how well the responsibilities of public offices are being discharged. In a democracy, accountability is an implicit tenet in the idea of popular representation. Article II of the Constitution established the accountability of the President, his cabinet and officers. During this century, as government has expanded, the accountability problem has grown. This can be seen by considering the number of Federal programs, which has been estimated to be as high as 10,000. Basic elements of accountability include: the transmission of information regarding the actions of those held accountable, the receiving of the information for examination and action, and a means by which the information can be used to improve performance, correct deficiencies, and reward superior service. The accountability chain between the electorate and elected officials is a vital, indispensable element of democratic government. Ways of increasing citizen involvement in the process must be continued to be developed. Various reforms in government over the years have built a strong base for achieving accountability. The establishment of GAO followed by various legislative changes which have expanded and strengthened its audit powers and authority are helping to assure better accountability by the bureaucracy. Today there are three aspects of accountability: fiscal accountability, process accountability, and program accountability. As evaluation becomes a more crucial part of the accountability process, problems involving research design and methodology, specification of goals and objectives, and utilization of results are being highlighted. A continuing difficulty has been the identification of the objectives for which program management should be held accountable. That prognosis for accountability in the Federal government is favorable is evidenced by (1) Congressional legislation that has shown an awareness for openness and systematic oversight; (2) the continued improvement in the timeliness of GAO in providing Congress with information on Federal programs; and (3) steps taken by the Administration for civil service reform and the creation of the Presidential Management Improvement Council.

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