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Book Summary

Denhardt, Janet and Robert Denhardt. The New Public Service: Serving, not Steering. M.E. Sharpe, Armonk 2003.

In Janet and Robert Denhardts 2003 book The New Public Service, the authors offer a synthesis of the ideas that are opposed to the New Public Management presented by Osborne and Gaebler. Their model for governance builds upon and expands the traditional role of the public administrator, which they call the Old Public Administration, and contrasts with the New Public Management. Following the structure of Reinventing Government, the Denhardts divide their argument into seven principles. These are:

  1. Serve citizens, not customers
  2. Seek the public interest
  3. Value citizenship over entrepreneurship
  4. Think strategically, act democratically (In comparison to Osborne and Gaebler, Denhardt and Denhardt assert that there is a difference between thinking strategically and entrepreneurial government.)
  5. Recognize that accountability is not simple
  6. Serve rather than steer (This involves listening to the real needs of the people and the community, not just responding in the manner that a business would to a customer.)
  7. Value people, not just productivity

Here, the role of the public administrator is much more complex. He or she cannot simply act as a manager in the business sense by performing cost-benefit analysis. As Denhardt and Denhardt explain, In the NPS, the public administrator is not the lone arbiter of the public interest. Rather, the public administrator is seen as a key actor within a larger system of governance including citizens, groups, elected representatives, as well as other institutionsthe role of government becomes one of assuring that the public interest predominates (p.81). They go on to further articulate this point with a quote:

The public manager's job is not only, or simply, to make policy choices and implement them. It is also to participate in a system of democratic governance in which public values are continuously rearticulated and recreated.
(Reich 1988, 123-24, quoted in D&D 96)

Denhardt and Denhardt assign quite a bit of responsibility to the public administrator, and at the same time stress the importance of public participation and community decision-making. The exact allocation of responsibility and power is unclear. Osborne and Gaebler are much more explicit on the relationship between government administration and its citizens, because they use the customer service model from business. The administrative role is further streamlined by moving as many choices as possible out of the political arena by converting those policy alternatives into market choices.