The Boundaries of Administrative Accountability

Who should administrative bodies and officials be accountable to? While some claim that legislatures, who are delegating power, should keep their agents in check, others argue that it is not possible for legislatures to oversee all the complexities of the mammoth state apparatus that governs our societies today. Recognizing the limitations of the principal-agent model, however, does not provide an easy alternative. While the political dimensions of executive action may require one form of accountability, the legal and technical dimensions of executive action may require something entirely different. Over-reliance on expertise may lead to claims that there is a democratic deficit in the public administration, while expansive forms of democratic accountability may be perceived as crowding out expertise. In mapping these tensions, this paper will point to how these debates are largely informed by assumptions of what administrative accountability should not be.