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Article Summary

Denhardt, Robert B. and Janet Vinzant Denhardt (2000). The New Public Service: Serving Rather than Steering. Public Administration Review 60(6):549-559.

Linda deLeon and Robert Denhardt deconstruct the central arguments of the reinventing government movement which emerged in 1992 after the release of David Osborne and Ted Gaeblers book, Reinventing Government. For deLeon and Denhardt, there are several damaging effects this political theory has on public administration. The authors critique three of the central arguments of reinventionits use of a market model within government, its emphasis on customers rather than citizens, and its adoration of entrepreneurial management. They conclude by reflecting on the impacts these three elements have on democratic citizenship, civic engagement and public interest.

Underlying the three elements of the reinvention movement is the belief that the narrowly defined self-interests of many individuals (public administrators) can adequately approximate the public interest, and can do so without burdensome civic discourse. The political theory of reinvention places in the hands of public administrators, decisions that are typically derived through citizen participation and the democratic process. The authors argue that the reinvention movement denigrates the role of collaborative action, produces an impoverished vision of the public interest, tends to exclude some persons from the public arena, and reduces trust among citizens and between their government (p.93).