The Role of Performance Measurement in the Public Administration Discipline: Then and Now

34 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2015

See all articles by Dan Williams

Dan Williams

Baruch School of Public Affairs

Date Written: October 1, 2003


This paper examines the practice of public administration within the scope of the political theory of democratic sovereignty. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, experiments in government sought to resolve the need for competence within the scope of the sovereign public. There was a genuine concern that excessive administrative hierarchy would return the United States to autocratic control. However, legislative control was considered corrupt or given to excessive dispersion of responsibility.

The core device for reconciling competence and sovereignty, as articulated by Frank Goodnow, was to link discretion to reporting. Administrators are allowed wide discretion in carrying out legislative decisions so long as the satisfactorily report their activities and success to the legislative (democratically sovereign) decision maker.

The paper explores difficulties that arise when administrators become experts who supplant value-based decisions with scientized standards. It explores the relationship between efficiency and effectiveness. And, it explores the significance of dispersed discretion throughout the organization for hierarchic responsibility.

Although problematic, the combination of legislative decision-making, administrative discretion, and performance reporting is the likely viable method for retaining democratic sovereignty and achieving competent government.

Keywords: Administrative discretion, Performance measurement, Public administration, Political theory

JEL Classification: Z00

Suggested Citation

Williams, Daniel, The Role of Performance Measurement in the Public Administration Discipline: Then and Now (October 1, 2003). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Williams (Contact Author)

Baruch School of Public Affairs ( email )

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