Performance, Accountability, and the Debate over Rules


David S. Kassel is principal of Accountable Strategies Consulting, a research and management consulting firm in Massachusetts. He was previously chief of the Management Division in the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General and, before that, a senior analyst with the Massachusetts House Post Audit and Oversight Committee. He has lectured on accountability issues at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.


Does compliance with rules ensure better program performance and accountability? Since the 1980s, many scholars have answered no to this question, arguing that as managers attempt to comply with a growing thicket of rules, they often lose sight of the performance of their agencies and programs. Even the defenders of a rules-based approach have tended to view it as a necessary, though inconvenient, means of ensuring that democratic values and public rights are protected in the functioning of government. But does compliance with rules inevitably result in a loss of efficiency and effectiveness in the performance of public projects? This essay presents a case study of a public works project and three additional case summaries to demonstrate a theoretical proposition that compliance with rules for contracting and competitive selection of contractors can be an essential element of both a project’s success and its accountability.