Carl Friedrich and Herman Finer debate the most effective way to ensure accountability of public officials
In the Public Administration world, this question is almost always referred to as the Friedrich-Finer debate. In the beginning of the 1940s, Carl Friedrich and Herman Finer debate the most effective way to ensure accountability of public officials. This debate continues today as American’s demand more accountability from government officials, both bureaucrats and elected officials. Below, I outline each side of the debate.
Carl Friedrich argues that internal checks, such as professional standards and technical knowledge, are enough to hold public officials accountable. He further maintains that elected officials are uninformed and lack access to information in comparison to bureaucrats. In his view, bureaucrats are better equipped to make tough decisions and to solve administrative problems without elected officials interfering.
Herman Finer takes a polar stance by asserting that intervention by elected officials is necessary to hold public officials accountable. He believes that elected officials, not bureaucrats, know what is best for the public good because they are elected by the public, which includes bureaucrats. Thus, in Finer’s opinion, elected officials should be making the decisions, while bureaucrats should be accountable for implementing the decisions. Further, Finer thinks that internal checks, such as professional standards and technical knowledge, are not enough to deter bureaucratic corruption, and that elected officials are needed to hold administrators responsible.
What do you think?
Should bureaucrats or elected officials be responsible for making government decisions?