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Public Management Research Association Bureaucratic Reform and Issues of Political Responsiveness Author(s): Glen Hahn

Public Management Research Association

Bureaucratic Reform and Issues of Political Responsiveness Author(s): Glen Hahn Cope

Source: Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: J-PART, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Jul.,

1997), pp. 461-471 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Public Management Research Association Stable URL:

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BureaucraticReform and Issues of Political Responsiveness

Glen Hahn Cope

University of

Illinoisat Springfield


Manyof the concepts and techniques associatedwith con-

temporary bureaucratic reform are filled with implicationsfor political responsiveness.Being entrepreneurialmay resultin


is specific responsiveness whileserviceto all of the citizensis

generalresponsiveness. Performance reviewsand entrepreneurial budgetingmaystrengthenbureaucracy and electedexecutives,but will also probably weaken political responsiveness.Managing and budgetingsystems that framepolicy alternativesand draw

the citizensand their political leadersinto

but reduce political responsiveness. Serviceto customers


making are preferable to the concepts and techniquesof bureau- cratic reform as reinventinggovernment.

J-PART 7(1997):3:461-471

As the town meeting is botha real anda metaphorical representation of democracy, so also stateandlocal government

organizations are often the exemplification of bureaucracy for


ments, has boththe

in the nationalcontextandthe positiveaspects, intended by Max Weber, of efficiency, impartiality, andfairness(Weber 1992). Although muchrecentattentionto bureaucraticreformhas focusedon the U.S. federal government andthe emerging democraciesof Easternand Central Europe andto some extent Asia, many stateand local governments embracedbureaucratic reform, whetheror not called by that name, long before political candidatesand journalistsbegan to campaignagainstWashington and the "bloated bureaucracy." Stateandlocal governments were early adopters of the principles of qualityimprovement; account- ability; and customer,client, or perhaps more appropriately, citizen satisfaction.David OsborneandTed Gaebler'sinfluential

book, ReinventingGovernment, for example, took most of its

examples of

reinvention-fromlocal government(Osborne and Gaebler 1992).

citizens. Bureaucracy, writ smallin many local govern-


connotationsthe wordhas acquired

bureaucraticreformactivities-what they termed

461/Journal of Public AdministrationResearchand Theory

The Waldo Symposium

Similarly, the performance review process, whichhas received considerableattentionsince it was embracedin the federal

governmentby Gore, began in

PresidentBill Clintonand Vice PresidentAl

the states (Gore 1993 and


Stateandlocal governments, because they are closer to the public(the demosof democracy), are microcosmsof the conflict betweenthe democraticvalues of politicalinclusion,equality, and liberty, andthe bureaucraticvalues of efficiency, rule-based implementation of policy, managerialleadership, andadministra- tive accountability.Concepts such as representativeness,equity, and individualism, whichare often cited as values of democracy, also frequently are traitscitizens expect of governmentagencies, although thereare conflictsbetweenthese values andthe charac- teristicsof bureaucracy, as has been so clearly elucidated by Dwight Waldo throughout his career, and quitespecifically in The Enterpriseof PublicAdministration (1980).

Bureaucracy itself historically was proposed and imple- mentedas a reformof the undemocratic,elitist, andoften corrupt political and governmentalsystems that precededit-systems complete with patronage,special interest influences,inefficiency, and high taxes. Bureaucracy now is associatedoftenwith simi- larly pejorativeconcepts such as inefficiency, rule-bound action, low productivity, lack of responsiveness, and high taxes. Bureau- craticreformoftenis cited as the way to ameliorateif not eliminatethese ills, to increase government'sresponsiveness to the public'sneeds, andto improve the politicalaccountability of governmentagencies andbureaucrats.

Everything toutedas bureaucraticreformis not as it seems, however. The much ballyhooedReinventing Governmentandthe reformmovementthatit spawned do not propose a reformof bureaucracy so muchas a substitutionof an alternativemethod for operating withinwhatremainsan essentially bureaucratic

system. For example, as

andGaebler'sversionof bureaucraticreformor reinventing governmentproposesmakinggovernmententrepreneurial. Entre- preneurship, in their view, can save money andincrease govern- ment's responsiveness to citizens' demands throughchanging the way governmentagenciesoperate.Substituting the "expenditure control budget" for the traditionalline item budgetpreviously used in Fairfield,California, for example, createdincentivesfor governmentmanagers to "save" money fromtheirannualbud- gets, presumablyby being more frugal in theirfinancialdecision making, thus creating a year-endsurplus that they couldthen keep to use for other purposes(pp. 119-22). The incentivein this system is clear: By spending less thanis appropriated each year,

the book's subtitle suggests, Osborne

462/J-PART, July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

managers can obtainfunds-not authorizedin the regularbudget-

purchasethings or employpeople they believe they need in

orderto do their jobs better.


A numberof local governments thathave adopted some

form of entrepreneurialbudgeting have foundthatthis creates strong incentivesto save money. It can increasethe cost effi-

of a governmentagency andallow the agency's managers


to accumulatea pot of money thatis availablefor use with virtually no spending controls.It also may createincentivesfor managers to overestimateor pad their budgetrequests to the extent possible withoutdetection by the budget office or legis- lative body in orderto createthe potential for savings. Whilethe cause is different, this can havethe same resultsas the old bureaucraticmethodof cutting the next year's budget becausethe full amountwas not spent in the currentor previousyear, or the

civil service practice of considering the size of a unit's budget or

the numberof

merit pay

to effect savings in one year, its budget shouldbe cut the next

year to reflectits efficiency of operations. The entrepreneurial

budget scheme may help


if the


employeessupervised to determine promotions and

increases. Presumably, if a governmentagency is able

offset the negative incentivesin that

since at least this year's savings can be maintainedeven

budget for next year is loweredin recognition of the unit's

Ultimately,however, to bureaucracyby changing the

politicalresponsiveness of that agency and the government as a

whole. Since the



sent the public

its citizens. OsborneandGaeblerandtheir supporterssuggest that government shouldthinkof those it serves as customers ratherthanas citizens, andit shouldstriveto be responsive to its


the extentthis practice reformsthe incentive systems it also reducesthe

budget is developedthrough a politicalprocess,

budgetby the bureaucracy without approval

madein the

or consultationwiththe political decisionmakerswho repre-

detractfromthe government'sresponsiveness to

Responsiveness to customersis differentfrom responsive- ness to citizens, however.To be responsive to customers, one

should provide a product thatis desirable, well made, and as

inexpensive as possible.

customersto like, or

purchase is voluntary andin most cases there are competing

products fromwhicha customer may

tomertendsto be driven by economics.For the manufacturerto breakeven or makea profit, it is sufficientthat enough cus- tomerswantto buy the product at the price offered. To respond

It is not necessary for all of the

even approveof, the product, since its

choose. Pleasing the cus-

463/J-PART,July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

to citizens, on the other hand, one should perform a service or produce a product thatthe majority of citizenswant and approve

through the

buying the productvoluntarily but are paying for it through taxes, which they are required to pay on penalty of fines or imprisonment. This createsa specialresponsibility for govern- mentnot only to satisfy its immediatecustomersand operate in a cost-efficientmanner, but also to deliverservicesthatits citizens have requestedthrough theirvotes andtheirelected representa- tives. Ultimately, if government can operate more efficiently, the reward system shouldresultin lower taxes for citizens, not just incentivesfor public servantsto spendyear-end extra money in ways thatwere not necessarily authorized through the political process.

politicalprocess, since in many cases citizens are not

Performancereview is another activity thatreceivedcon- siderableattentionas a bureaucraticreformin the early to mid- 1990s. Performancereview is a processwhereby the cost effi- ciency andeffectivenessof governmentoperations are analyzed by a teamof evaluatorswhose job it is to find ways for govern- mentto operate more efficiently. The differencebetweenthe new versionof performance review and previousefficiency evalua- tions is that performance is now reviewed mostlyby government



on earlier projects(e.g., the GraceCommissionat the federal

level in the 1980sandnumerousstate-level efficiency task forces


a conduitfor the ideas developedby governmentemployees at all levels, who oftencan advisethe program reviewers (and couldhave advisedtheir supervisors if asked) on ways to perform


the 1970s). Performancereview operates best when it serves

who are

program evaluatorsand policy analysts rather


taskforces of business people suchas those who worked

the organization's functionsmore efficiently andcost effectively.

In this sense it can

governmentagencies, the agency'sgoals of effectiveness.

enhance participatory decision making in

and in many cases it actually can achieve

lower cost withoutloss of efficiency or

Performancereview tendsto emphasizedevelopment of quantitative measurements; it borrowsin part fromthe statistical control techniques of total qualitymanagement andfrom the program evaluation methodologies of sociology, politicalscience,


improvement of efficiency

ineffectiveness, but it is


performancemeasurement, while

tivenessand impact of

so becausethe real goals of

policy analysis.Quantitativeanalysis is conduciveto

andcan informdecisionmakersof

not as usefulin evaluationof the short-

attempts to

measurethe effec-

programs and policies, cannot always do

manyprograms and policies are not

long-termnonquantifiableimpacts of policies. Quantitative


464/J-PART, July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

necessarily measurableor countablein a quantitativeway. Quan-

tifiable proxy measuresoften are used to evaluate nonquantifiable


favorof those activitiesthatresultin

thanin the best achievementof the actual goals.

on measuringquantifiableresults, impacts,and, if possible, goal achievementleads reviewersanddecisionmakersto focus on the

programmatic outcomes.This leads to programmaticimprove- mentor reformin manycases, but not necessarilyany true bureaucraticreform.

results, which may distortthe

analysis or createbiases in better proxy resultsrather

This emphasis

The danger inherentin both performance review and the reinventionof governmentthroughentrepreneurialbudgeting and relatedactivitiesis thatthe views and opinions of the policy elites-performancereviewers,agencyexperts,policy or budget analysts-may be substitutedfor those of the elected representa- tives of the people. Whilethis outcomewouldnot necessarily be incompatible with the traditionalWeberianideal of bureaucracy, it is not conduciveto politicalresponsiveness and may therefore be detrimentalto the democratic process.

Democratic processesrequire thatcitizensbe able to make informedand meaningful choices. Citizensshouldbe able to choose their representatives basedon informed judgment and through these representatives to select theirdesired public policies, methodsof implementation, andthe taxes and budgets required to pay for them. In some cases citizenshave the oppor- tunity to determine publicpolicy directlythrough New England town meetings or ballotreferenda, which gives theman even greater need for access to informationabout policy proposals and theiralternatives.Underwhatevercircumstances,democracy requires informationthatoftenhas to be developedby the bureaucracy in orderfor it to be madeavailablein usable form to the citizens.

Simply to say

thatcitizensneed informationin orderto

makeinformedchoices is not sufficient, however. Thatinforma- tion has to be in usable form, that is, it has to be writtenor presented in a way thatis understandableto citizens, and the citizensmusthave access to it. A report writtenin jargon thatis unfamiliarto the generalpublic is not usableeven if it is mailed to each citizen'shome. Conversely, a well-written,easy-to- understanddocumentdoes not furtherdemocraticactionif voters cannotobtainit. Informationabouta topic alone is not enough, either.If votersdo not know all the available options it is difficultfor themto makeinformedchoices. Citizensalso need to know about any potential costs or benefits, informationthat may not be obviousfrom the information provided. While it is not

465/J-PART, July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

possible to predict all the consequences of policy choices, infor- mationaboutrelevantcausal relationships andtheir possible influenceon particularpolicy options is necessary if citizensand theirelected representatives are to make appropriate choices.

Assuming thatvotershave the information they need to make meaningful choices andthat they are informedaboutall the alternativesavailableto achievea particularpolicy goal-and any potentialconsequences-democratic actionfurther requires that votershave the ability to communicatetheirchoices to policy decisionmakers.Somecitizens regularly informtheirelected representatives of theirviews on subjects, others belong to groups-such as the AmericanAssociationof RetiredPersonsor the Audubon Society-that lobby legislatures and Congress to maketheir positions known.Of course, in statesandcommunities that constitutionally allow citizensthe initiativeto petition for referendaon policy issues, voters have the option to participate in decision makingdirectly andthuscommunicatetheirwishes to electedand appointed officials. Less directly, citizensalso com- municatetheir political decisions by voting for or againstlegis- lators, city counciland county commission members, school board members,mayors,governors,senators, membersof Con- gress, the president, andotherelected officials.

If informationis availableto citizensand they are able to communicatetheirchoices to policy decision makers, a further requirement to ensurethat democracy is politicallyresponsive to citizensis thatit must operate withina process that generates standardsof performance andcriteriafor measurementof the success or failureof a policy. Withoutsome standardof perform- ance, it is difficultfor constituentsto hold electedofficials or the bureaucracy accountablefor theiractions.This is one of the most difficult problems for democracy and bureaucracy-how to set policy achievementstandardsthatare measurablein ways that citizenscan understandanduse to holdelectedofficials and appointed bureaucratsaccountable.Withoutsome set of stan- dards, the bureaucracy has difficultyassessing its own perform- ance, while electedofficials andcitizenshave even more prob- lems evaluating the appropriateness,success, or failureof bureaucracy'spolicy choices andactivities.

The difficultiescitizenshave obtaining sufficientinfor- mation,identifyingpolicy alternatives,communicating their views to elected representatives and appointedofficials, and holding these officialsandbureaucratsaccountableto a standard of performance can lead to imperfections in the democraticand bureaucratic processes. For example, if citizenscannotinfluence policy making andhold governmentagenciesaccountable, then

466/J-PART,July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

bureaucracy can proceed as if thereare no alternativesto the

plans and procedures it develops. Similarly, if

cials do not trustcitizenswith information, or if they provide informationthatis not accessibleandusable by citizens, then bureaucraciescan withholdinformationso that publicparticipa- tion in the democratic process is thwarted.A third imperfection thatafflictsdemocraticandbureaucratic processes is thatthe inability to define standardsof performanceclearly and precisely reducesthe effectivenessof performance assessments by and accountability to the public. These imperfections,however, are not insurmountable; in some instances they can be ameliorated by meaningful bureaucraticreforms.

government offi-

Budget reformis a subsetof bureaucratic reform, intended to addresssome of thesebureaucraticand democratic imperfec- tions. Among the purposes of budget reformsthathave been pro- posed since the beginning of the twentieth century are the devel- opment of policy or management alternativesand the evaluation of agency and programmaticperformance in orderto accomplish politicalgoals morecost efficiently. Similarly, more recent reform proposals for both budgets and annualfinancial reports have emphasized their purpose as public documentsandthe infor- mationalbenefits they can provide to citizens. While it is not all- encompassing and certainly not the only method possible, budget reformas a type of bureaucraticreformcan help addressthe issues of politicalresponsiveness thathave been identifiedhere.

Several budget reformshave emphasized the development of policy alternatives.As early as 1952, VerneB. Lewis proposed a budgetingsystem in whichalternative proposals wouldbe


andchoose the one most appropriate andcost effective (Lewis

in orderto allow decisionmakersto evaluate options

1952, 43-54). This

procedure was elaboratedtwo decadeslater

when Peter Pyhrrproposed zero-base budgeting for publicorgan- izations (Pyhrr1973; 1977, 1-8). In both cases these budget

reformers proposed that publicagencies should develop alterna- tive budgetproposals above andbelow the targetedbudget level to enabledecisionmakersto assess the quantity and quality of servicesthatcouldbe provided andto makeinformeddecisions.


the early 1960s in the defense

federal agencies in 1965-and subsequently to many stateand

local governments-also suggesteddevelopment of alternative

policy proposals,especially for new programs,although it did not requireseparatebudgets to do so (Schick 1966, 243-58). More recent budgetingsystems,especially those developedby

local and state

whichwas introducedin

budget,applied to all


governments, have

includedthe alternative budget

development ideas fromthese budget reformsas a way to force

467/J-PART,July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

the development of policy alternativesbefore resourceallocation decisionsare made. If policy, program, or administrativealterna- tives are developed in the budgetprocess, they can be considered by appointed andelectedofficials who makeresourceallocation decisions, thus ameliorating the bureaucratic tendency to consider only the most expedientoption staff membershave identified. Similarly, when local governments hold publicbudgethearings thatare attended by citizens, the latteralso have the opportunity to considerand propose various policy alternatives.In this way budget reformhas amelioratedthe bureaucratic tendency to proceed as if therewere no necessity to consideralternative methods,policies, or programs, andit has made bureaucracy somewhatmore politicallyresponsive.

The tendency for bureaucratsto withholdinformationfrom the public, or to provide it in a formthatis not readily under- standableor usable, also can be somewhatoffset by recent reformsin budgeting and financial management. While traditional line-item budgets andannualfinancial reports were developedby andfor accountants,making it difficultfor even other govern- ment officials, let alone citizens, to understandtheir contents, current practice has been rapidlymoving in the opposite direc- tion. The GovernmentFinanceOfficers Association, a profes- sionalassociationof stateandlocal government financialand budgetofficers, has for a numberof years offered competitions to which stateandlocal governments,authorities, school dis- tricts, andothersubnational government entities may submittheir annual budgets and comprehensive annualfinancial reports (CAFR) for awardsand recognition. The criteriafor these awardsfor outstandingbudgets or CAFRsinclude readability,

understandability,completeness, and presentation in ways thatare readily understandableandusable by the generalpublic as well as

specialized constituenciessuchas bondraters.These highly

covetedawards usually are reproduced in the frontof the official


printedbudgets andCAFRsof the governments thatreceive them. They have given strong incentivesto stateand local gov- ernmentsto provide relevantfinancialinformationandto present it clearly.

The presence of C-SPANcamerasin the U.S. Congress has madefederal budget informationsomewhatmore availableto the public, but in most cases whatis broadcastis the political debate or the publichearing, ratherthanthe contentsof the budget

proposals. The federal budget is very citizento understand.It is difficultto

impossible for the nonexpert to reconcile programmatic differ- ences fromone year to the next, even though severalbooks that describehow to understandthe federal budget as proposed and

difficultfor the ordinary follow and it is nearly

468/J-PART,July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

printed are writtenand updatedannually. In the federal govern- mentthe bureaucratic tendency to withholdinformationand to thwart publicparticipation is still operable and is aidedand abetted by the sheervolumeof information. Budget and financial reporting reformshave been muchmore successfulin opening up informationchannelsand increasingpoliticalresponsiveness at the local and statelevels thanin the national government.

The necessity to develop standardsandcriteriafor assess- mentof efficiency, effectiveness, and success within government agencies and programs is perhaps most problematic becauseit is difficultto develop measurablecriteriathatcan be understood andused by citizens to hold the bureaucracy accountable. Budget reformshave attempted this feat since performancebudgeting was proposed in local governmentby the Bureauof Municipal

Researchin New York City in 1907,

ment by the first HooverCommission (Commission on Organiza- tion of the ExecutiveBranchof the Government) in 1949. Devel-

opment of quantitativeperformance measuresto assess how effi- ciently governmentagencies or programs are operating andhow


of performancebudgets. Oftenthese measuresare basedon per-

formancestandards developedby

(e.g., response times for emergency calls to police, fire, and



larlyproposed the development of quantitativemeasures, but these were program measuresthat emphasized assessmentof goal

attainmentand program effectivenessratherthan efficiency.


series of budget


the standardsandcriteriaof performancebudgeting and measure-

mentof efficiency, as has total qualitymanagement with its



levels, andthen adapted to each particular circumstance,they

have contributedto the

accountability assessments by who elect them.

and in the federal govern-

performance could be

improved is the primary characteristic


medicalservices departments, or caseloadsizes for

assistanceandchild welfare workers). PPB systems simi-

as describedabove, is anotherin this

reforms.In emphasizing cost savings and effi-

it has brought bureaucraticand political attentionback to

on statisticalcontrol.As these budget reformshave

adoptedby governments,especially at the local and state

possibility of criteria development and

electedofficials andthe citizens

While these budget reformshave had an impact at the

federaland state levels,

most increased politicalresponsiveness.Many local governments

in the 1990s have adapted the concepts and procedures of various


citizen demandsfor participation in bureaucraticand political

processes. In a recent survey of

it is in local government that they have


theirneedsandhave used themto respond to

U.S. cities and counties, 18

469/J-PART,July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

percent of approximately 1400 respondents used some aspects of

a performancebudgetformat, 35 percent used some type of pro- grambudget format (the less formalsuccessorto PPB), and 6 percent used elementsof zero-base budgeting(Cope 1995, 42- 52). More importantly, these local governmentsreported that they use program and performance measuresin their budgetpro- cesses andin other management activities.Measuresof activity, performance,efficiency, effectiveness, and goal attainmentare developedpredominantlyby departmental or program staffs (in

87 percent of the respondentgovernments) andare reported to

the manager or chief administrativeofficer in 18 to 33 percent of

the local governments, to the elected legislativebody in 15 to 30 percent of the governments, andto the public in a published documentin 11 to 23 percent of the jurisdictions(Cope 1995, 49). Whilethese survey resultsare not overwhelming,they do indicatethat many local governments are attempting to be more politicallyresponsiveby developing and reporting information thatthe public can use to makeinformeddecisionsaboutthe performance of the bureaucraciesthatserve them.

Budget reformas a type of bureaucraticreformis not a panacea. It can, however, increasethe politicalresponsiveness of governments to theircitizens throughdevelopment of alternative policy proposals,provision of information, andmeasurementof performance and programmatic success. The budget reformsthat have resultedin the budgetingsystems of the 1990s have, espe-

cially in local governments,helped the

moreattunedto the informationaland assessmentneedsof citi- zens andthus increasedthe potential for politicalresponsiveness. This is likely to improvepublicmanagement in the long run by aligning it more closely with the ideals of the democratic process. All conflictis not resolved thereby, however. Citizen expecta-

tions of responsivenessby the bureaucracy cannotbe met simply by increasing the information reported in the annual budget docu- mentsand comprehensive annualfinancial reports. Most citizens do not readthose documents,althoughthey may watchtelevision news reports thatuse the information they containor even read detailed descriptions in the daily newspaper.Any activity that helps to reducethe inherentantidemocratictendenciesof bureaucracy shouldbe considereda favorablecontributorto the democratic process, however, even if it is slight.

bureaucracy to become

Reductionof the conflictbetween bureaucracy anddemoc- racy through increased politicalresponsiveness is desirable, even if complete eliminationis not necessarily achievable.Bureau- craticreformis one way to enhancethis processthrough the mechanismsof budget reformandthe increasedinformationit can makeavailableto citizens. Some local governments have

470/J-PART, July 1997

The Waldo Symposium

embarkedon this path, as have some state governments. It remainsto be seen how much impactbudget reformswill have on politicalresponsiveness and whether they can be effective in improvingpoliticalresponsiveness at any level of government fartherremovedfromcitizensthanlocal government.

Commission on Organization of the Executive Branchof the Government.

1949 Budgeting and Accounting. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Cope, Glen Hahn.

1995 "Budgeting for Performancein Local Government."The Muni- cipal Yearbook1995. Washing- ton, D.C.: International City/

County Management Associa- tion.

Gore, Al.

1993 From Red Tape to Results:

Creating a GovernmentThat WorksBetter and Costs Less:

Report of the National Per- formance Review. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

1994 Creating a GovernmentThat WorksBetter and Costs Less:

Report of the National Per- formance Review: Status Report.

Washington, D.C.: U.S. Gov- ernment Printing Office.


Lewis, Verne B.

1952 "Towarda Theory of Budget- ing." Public Administration

Review 12:(winter):43-54.

Waldo, Dwight.

1980 The Enterpriseof Public Admin- istration:A Summary View. Novato, Calif.: Chandlerand



New York Bureauof Municipal Research.

Weber, Max.

1907 Making a MunicipalBudget. New York City.

Osborne, David, and Gaebler, Ted.

1992 Reinventing Government:How the EntrepreneurialSpirit is Transforming the Public Sector. Reading, Mass.: Addison- Wesley.

Pyhrr, Peter A.



Zero-Base Budgeting. New York: John Wiley.

"TheZero-Base Approach to Government Budgeting." Public AdministrationReview 37:


1992 "Bureaucracy." In Jay M. Sha- fritz and Albert C. Hyde., eds. Classics of Public Adminis- tration, 3d ed., 51-56. Pacific Grove, Calif.: Brooks/Cole.

Reprinted from From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, H.H. Gerthand C. Wright Mills, ed. and trans. Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1946.

Schick, Allen.

1966 "TheRoad to PPB: The Stages

of Budget Reform." Public



471/J-PART,July 1997