Portuguese public managers and administrative reform in the global context of competitiveness
27º International Congress of Administrative Sciences (IIAS)
In a global community where social and economical environment is growingly unstable, the ability of public organisations to readjust to new strategic challenges has become an imperative. The globalisation of markets presents new pressures on national economies as well as on public administrations, as the latter constitute a pillar of productivity and competitiveness. Public organisations are essentially a construct of people and not only its physical structures or its formal organisational chart. The discussion on models of public employment and human resources management is therefore – and more than ever - relevant in public administration, as it is in politics or in civil society. In fact, public managers are considered to be the main catalysts in the change process as well as in assuring that public administration contributes to social and economic competitiveness. Both private and public sector success is closely tied to the quality and professionalism of managers (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003). Although international experience reveals the existence of different solutions in recruitment and performance evaluation models, they are always linked to local cultural and political history of bureaucratic elite. Administrative reform and the change process must therefore take into consideration the cultural environment and the Portuguese case is no exception to the rule (Araújo, 1999; Rocha, 2001). All main reformist trends in western countries, inspired by different organisational theories and concepts and driven by distinct political orientations, have one aspect essential to the link between political power and administrative elite: Trust. This key-factor of institutional loyalty in public office (Page & Wright, 1999) can, nonetheless, be interpreted and applied in numerous and very different ways. In the last 15 years, Portugal has seen succeeding approaches to the recruitment and the evaluation of managers. With the fall of the dictatorial regime in the mid-70’s, public managers where no longer appointed for life, but in a temporary commission regime. In 1987, the first majority government centralised administrative power in the hands of politicians and in 1989, government members were legally allowed to recruit public managers in the private labour market, with the intent of developing competence, loyalty and efficiency. In 2004, the implementation of the new Integrated Evaluation System for public administration introduces the management-by-objectives concept in the performance assessment process. Nevertheless, this system is applicable only to civil servants and intermediate managers, leaving top managers out. The presumption is that top managers are evaluated on the basis of the organisation’s results. But in reality, public organisations are not evaluated in terms of results, be they service delivery or management performance. The binding of objectives, goals and performance indicators can only be possible in a scheme of linkage and interdependency between the performances of the different hierarchical grades. However, one must not forget that the absence of a formal sanction factor for top managers, in the case of poor performance, emerges as a relative injustice factor, as all other public officers have more rigorous conditions in this matter. The effective assessment of top managers’ performance is left to the political power, which appointed them, therefore enhancing personal trust and institutional loyalty as key-factors in the evaluation process. In pure bureaucratic administrative areas, the discussion on recruitment and evaluation models of top managers would not go much further, but in public service areas, where new organisational designs emerge, deeper questions arise. In most cases, the market for public services is more constrained than the private market, sometimes even totally closed to private competition. One common approach is to argue for private-like management and operation models, but only to some extent. In Portugal, there has been an increasing trend to deliver some public services through new organisational designs, which benefit from both private and public rule. In these cases, as throughout public administration, top managers are selected and evaluated by political power, furthermore raising the question of accountability. According to Romzek (2000), one can find four different types of accountability in organisations: hierarchical, legal, political and professional. When replacing traditional administrative structures with new modern ones, the former emphasis on hierarchical and political accountability (based on internal control and supervision and dependant on political power) is in theory shifted towards legal (performance evaluation and contract compliance) and professional accountability (practice expertise, intrinsic norms and working models). In practice, this shift is rarely observed in public services for which new management settings and organisational models have been implemented. Although new performance assessment instruments have been approved (e.g. mission statements for top managers), political accountability seems to prevail, as the selection, appointment and evaluation of top managers is fully dependant on the political power. Even if, according to Paige & Wright (1999), this “trust” factor is at the origin of managers’ choice in all western countries, unless their recruitment system is associated to an evaluation model that defines with absolute clarity their objectives, goals and performance indicators as well as the real consequences of success or failure, such system will never fulfil its intention to provide clear and transparent visibility to public management practices. On the long run, managers in public service delivery organisations are likely to concentrate on their institutional relationships and pay more attention to operational aspects of management, overlooking what should be their major concern: providing efficient and effective service, thus contributing to the economic and social development and competitiveness.