At the regulatory front lines: building inspectors and new public management
Wood, Robert S., 1964-
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Those individuals at the front lines of service delivery are once again prominent figures in studies of policy implementation. Recent scholarship addressing regulatory enforcement, public management, bureaucratic control, and public administration have all focused on the importance of these street-level bureaucrats and the unique role they play in shaping public policy.The idea that street-level bureaucrats create policy through their discretionary behavior is well established, but there is still considerable debate over whether street-level discretion enhances or diminishes public service delivery. Much of this debate between New Public Management and traditional public administration scholars has centered on whether these workers should be constrained or empowered in order to improve government performance.A key element concerns the motivations for bureaucratic behavior. If street-level bureaucrats exercise their discretion in ways that are inconsistent with the policy preferences of their principals, why do they do so? How much of their motivation is from a need to manage the demands of an unreasonable workload, how much from desires to sabotage policy or maximize leisure, and how much is aimed at improving service?In addressing these questions, this study examines a number of contrasting assumptions between New Public Management and traditional public administration about building inspectors as street-level bureaucrats. Blending qualitative and quantitative techniques, the analyses examine the influence of context, discretion, and supervision on the behavior of inspectors. The findings lend support to New Public Management arguments that front-line workers are both willing and able to assume increased responsibilities. But they also support traditional arguments that to preserve accountability empowerment measures must be accompanied by increased training, professionalization, and enhanced supervision.This study contributes to scholarly literature in a number of important ways. It adds to debates on bureaucratic discretion in public administration with empirical findings about the motivations of bureaucrats. It fills a prominent gap in the regulatory enforcement literature by clarifying the role and importance of inspectors in the regulatory enforcement process. And it expands the street-level bureaucracy literature by extending the study of individual bureaucratic behavior to a regulatory setting.
- Political science