Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

A systematic and engaging new text that analyses accountability and transparency in contemporary public services, and examines how open government can be both a challenge and an aid to more effective public management. This text is an ideal guide for both practical and conceptual understanding of the possibilities of open government.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Challenges of Transparency and Accountability

Abstract
In 2013, the Public Accounts Committee of the United Kingdom Parliament criticized the capacity of the Revenue and Customs Department (HMRC) to deal with tax avoidance by large corporations. In particular, it drew attention to the practice of Treasury and HMRC in seconding taxation experts from the big four accounting firms to advise on the making and implementation of taxation policy. Such cooperation, it argued, amounted to an ‘unhealthily cosy’ relationship and could compromise the government’s defence of the public interest against the vested interests of the corporate sector.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 2. The Evolving Context

Abstract
In 1994, the New York City Police Department introduced a new model of police management known as COMPSTAT (computer-statistics), which was aimed at making local police managers responsible for producing effective results for their communities. The system was based on a fourstep process involving timely and accurate intelligence, rapid deployment, effective tactics and immediate follow-up and assessment. It made key use of localized performance information, both in deciding strategies and in evaluating them. This computer-based information has not only been available for internal management meetings but has also been published on the Police Department internet website in the form of weekly COMPSTAT reports of crime statistics. The more newsworthy items are regularly picked up by the local news media. The system of results-based information and reporting is credited with significant improvements in the performance of frontline police and has been adopted in many other jurisdictions.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 3. Dealing with Politicians

Abstract
In 2012, armed militants stormed the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four people, including the United States Ambassador to Libya. The President, Barack Obama, and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, were called on to explain why intelligence and security at the consulate had been inadequate to prevent the attack. Initial suggestions that the attack was linked to street protests against an inflammatory anti-Muslim video proved unfounded and led to claims that the government was attempting to cover up the existence of a well-planned assault which they ought to have anticipated. Ms Clinton, questioned by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, denied the charges, saying that the administration did not have a clear picture of events in the days immediately after the attack. She told the committee that she believed in transparency and in taking responsibility, which she had done by supporting efforts to track down the attackers and to improve security arrangements in consulates at risk.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 4. Dealing with Freedom of Information

Abstract
In 2004, a London-based investigative journalist and author, Heather Brooke, began making Freedom of Information (FOI) requests about MPs’ parliamentary expenses. Officers of the House of Commons kept rejecting her requests on various grounds, for example that the information would be difficult to collect, that publication would compromise national security (by revealing where MPs lived), would improperly invade MPs’ privacy and would hamper the processes of democracy. Five years later, after a series of lengthy and expensive appeals, the High Court ruled in favour of disclosure. Publication of the details, including extravagant sums spent on MPs’ homes, provoked a major political scandal, leading to several high-profile resignations and major reform of the system of parliamentary expenses. Without FOI legislation, this long-standing abuse of taxpayers’ funds might never have seen the light of day.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 5. Dealing with the News Media

Abstract
In 2008, as part of its response to the Global Financial Crisis, the Australian federal government launched a programme of spending on education infrastructure labelled ‘Building the Education Revolution’. The programme included funds for new and refurbished halls, libraries, classrooms and language laboratories as well as for outside learning areas and sporting facilities. The purpose of the programme was to inject immediate funds into the building construction sector while providing schools with much-needed facilities. Soon after the programme was under way, the national broadsheet newspaper, The Australian, began a sustained campaign of critical attack on the programme, gathering evidence of alleged waste and overcharging and claiming that those responsible for implementing the programme were not being held sufficiently accountable. The main opposition party took up the criticisms, leading the government to tighten its controls and to conduct a number of reviews. An eventual investigation by the Auditor-General confirmed some of the complaints about poor governance but dismissed most of the allegations about waste of public funds.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 6. Dealing with the Legislature

Abstract
The New Zealand Commerce Commission is an independent statutory authority charged with promoting fair trading and economic competition. As such, it is subject to regular oversight from the New Zealand Parliament, through the commerce select committee. In 2014, during the commerce committee’s annual inquiry into the Commission’s activities for the previous financial year, committee members subjected senior Commission managers to extensive questioning about their investigations into anti-competitive behaviour against an Australian-owned supermarket chain. The company concerned had been accused of extortionary tactics against local suppliers and committee members, as politicians sensitive to constituency pressures, were keen to see the Commission take a firm line in defence of small business operators. The company’s lawyers demanded access to all statements made about the company, a request that was granted by the committee, allowing much greater publicity for the accusations. The Commission itself also came under further media scrutiny relating to the effectiveness of its regulating.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 7. Dealing with Regulators

Abstract
In 2014, the office of the Swedish Auditor General investigated the channelling of government aid funds to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). It found that in 75 per cent of the projects, it was not possible to determine what type of activity was being undertaken. Half the projects failed to pay social insurance and taxes. In one-third of the projects, wrong information related to receipts, attendance lists or purchasing agreements was provided. In a number of cases there were unjustified costs, such as high salaries, large overhead costs and consultant fees, where it was not clear how the consultant contributed to the project. According to the Audit office, responsibility for the maladministration lay mainly with the government agency SIDA, which had not insisted on strict and intensive auditing of expenditure. Blame also attached to NGOs themselves for not being sufficiently aware of the risks of corruption in local projects.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 8. Dealing with Courts and Judicial Review

Abstract
In 1996, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the first time asserted authority over tobacco products, issuing regulations dealing with the promotion and labelling of tobacco and its sale to adolescents and minors. The FDA had determined that nicotine was a drug and that cigarettes were therefore a drug delivery system. It proposed regulating cigarettes as a hybrid involving both a drug and medical device. A number of tobacco companies objected, instituting a lawsuit that claimed that tobacco was outside the purview of the FDA’s governing legislation, the Food, Drugs and Cosmetic Act, which does not cover tobacco. The case was eventually decided by the Supreme Court. The Court agreed that tobacco was a dangerous product that needed regulation. However, the fact that the FDA had not previously asserted authority over tobacco, while the Congress (the legislature) had itself approved a number of separate measures on tobacco, indicated that Congress did not intend the FDA to regulate tobacco. Moreover, the regulation of tobacco was a complex task that was not well-suited to the FDA. The court therefore decided in the tobacco companies’ favour.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 9. Dealing with Stakeholders

Abstract
In 2008, the Australian commonwealth (federal) government agreed with state and territory governments to introduce a nationwide education testing scheme. Known as the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), the programme tests the literacy and numeracy skills of all school pupils in their third, fifth, seventh and ninth years of schooling and publicizes each school’s performance on a ‘My School’ website. At the time of its introduction, the programme generated considerable uncertainty, suspicion and even opposition among school administrators, teachers and the wider community. Senior officials from government education departments conducted a series of consultative meetings with interested parties, answering detailed questions about the tests and how they would be administered and seeking to allay fears about possible costs and abuses. After the first test results were published, the government faced vigorous questions from interested groups who considered the tests were an unfair measure of pupils’ ability and schools’ quality and demanded to know what use the government was making of the results.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 10. Dealing with Contractors and Partners

Abstract
In 2013, the ‘horsemeat scandal’, in which food retailers were discovered to be passing horsemeat off as beef, shook consumers and governments across Europe and beyond. The story broke first in Ireland where food inspectors announced that they had found horsemeat in frozen beefburgers manufactured in Ireland and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Food Standards Authority then commissioned its own inspections and discovered illegal horsemeat in a wide range of meat products on sale to British consumers. Mislabelled processed meat products were also identified in several other European countries. Government agencies in both France and the Netherlands intervened to temporarily suspend production in certain meat processing companies. The European Commission vowed to tighten the regulatory regimes for meat processing and labelling which remained in the control of individual members states.
Richard Mulgan

Chapter 11. Conclusions

Abstract
Though accountability and transparency demands on public managers vary widely across jurisdictions and agencies, some general trends have emerged in the OECD nations in recent decades. One is the greater exposure of public managers to direct public scrutiny. Traditional models relied heavily on hierarchical authority, leaving political leaders as the sole or main spokespeople for government actions. This convention is still well entrenched, particularly in mainline departments under direct political control, but even there it is weakening in the face of more open public access to government officials.
Richard Mulgan
Additional information