Political Research Exchange

Civil Servants' Social Identities as Factor Balancing Bureaucratic Reputation Seeking and Accountability

Local Government
Public Administration
Sharon Gilad
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Sharon Gilad
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Saar Alon-Barkat
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

A growing body of Public-Administration research has demonstrated bureaucracies' strategic pursuit of a positive reputation for their performance in the execution of their distinct missions. Such a pursuit may lead bureaucrats to resist political agendas that endanger their missions. Hence, bureaucratic pursuit of reputation often collides with political accountability to the electorate and democratic responsiveness. How do bureaucrats strike a balance between reputation seeking and accountability? What explains their inclination to respond to political agendas, contradicting their long-term bureaucratic missions and threatening their bureaus’ reputations? Our study offers a new theoretical direction for understanding this long-standing issue. Building on social identity theory in psychology and on representative bureaucracy theory in public administration, we argue that civil servants are more inclined to comply with political agendas, responding to the public demands, and to accept reputational risks, inasmuch as they socially identify with the public. To assess this argument, we have been conducting interviews and surveys with civil servants in ten local authorities in Israel. We explore their inclination to support politicians' and central government’s pursuit of large-scale, low-cost, housing projects, which challenge their municipalities’ capacity to provide high quality services in the long-term. We expect civil servants who socially identify with the economic burdens of the Israeli middle class to support low-cost housing projects units within their municipalities. Additionally, we expect those who socially identify with the residents of the city in which they work to support low-cost housing projects that are targeted towards existing residents.
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"...the good of man must be the objective of the science of politics" - Aristotle

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