Donald Savoie is an old hand at public administration, as well known in Ottawa for consultancy as for his penetrating analysis from the safety of tenure. Breaking the Bargain was the first of his that I read, and it explained a lot I had puzzled over. This may be the culmination of his work, “How Government Decides and Why”. Traditional public Administration (TPA) collapsed in the 1980s, to be replaced by New Public Management (NPM) with the ethos of the private sector [no hint of digital era governance in this]. He claims economists dropped serious political economy and moral philosophy, one of my complaints, too. I blame Samuelson.
Ch 2 addresses the role of parliament in reviewing expenditures. They don’t have the tools to understand what they are looking at, and don’t read the documents they are given. My sense after last year’s PCO experience is that Savoie may be dated on this. The centre of gravity has shifted to PMO-TBS, not PCO.
Ch 3 considers cabinet ministers, who are bypassed now. The budget is prepared by the PMO and Finance. I think he misses the new Harper sleight of hand: announce but don’t spend!
Ch 4 - the lack of ministerial and MP power means that only the PM can effect change, privileging the status quo except when there are big cuts like the 1994-97 program review and Harper’s 2011-12 strategic review.
Ch 5 points to changes in the machinery of government. Senior officials look up to ministers, and a dwindling pool of civil servants look out to public or “clients”. There are more demands from “the centre” for information, and the whole structure has become more top heavy. Because civil servants offer less service, and are more Ottawa-policy focused, they have lost respect from the public and are an easier target. [I would add that the greater capacity of party structure, including the PMO, to provide policy steering means that even policy wonks are less needed]
Ch 6 NPM has failed. This chapter has a good list of Glassco and Lambert Commission recommendations and fall-out. Private sector efficiencies have not come in as anticipated, because there is no market discipline, and there are only incentives for powerful ministries to grow.
Ch 7 Program evaluation has shifted from line-item review to PPBS, and the TBS role has shrunken to one of monitoring process, while taking more time, cost, and people to do so. This costs a lot and is less effective.
Ch 8 there are more public sector senior managers and fewer front-line workers, and PS gets paid more with better benefits on average than private sector [a conservative target]
Ch 9 - DMs get to the top by policy skills, not by “management” competence - most have no front-line experience. This is different from the private sector. See Lew McKenzie (G&M, 1996) on choosing the CDS, [but I think this changed with Hillier and Natynczyk?]
Ch 10 - the transition from TPA to NPM has failed and the relationship between public servants and politicians is broken. The public and private sectors are fundamentally different, and a return to TPA is warranted.
(also posted on Amazon, with minor edits)
David Last, 21 October 2013