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Budgeting is an important mechanism for ensuring public accountability. How do budget reforms in the United States during the Progressive Era compare to those in contemporary China? Are administrative and legislative budget controls essential to an effective, efficient government? Though the two countries differ in many respects, significant parallels between their budget reforms are evident. In the United States, electoral accountability alone does not guarantee overall government accountability if proper budgetary institutions are absent. China’s recent budget reform reveals that it is possible to develop accountability, absent open elections, but with limitations and constraints. Lessons on budgeting and accountability for other developing and transitional countries are drawn from this comparative study.