Outsourcing, Discretion, and Administrative Justice: Exploring the Acceptability of Privatized Decision Making


  • Avishai Benish

  • I am grateful to Merav Zohari and Efrat Rotem for their excellent research assistance. I also wish to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their tremendously helpful comments. In addition, the article benefited from comments from participants on the panel “International Perspectives on Justice and Fairness” at the 2013 Law and Society conference held in Boston. The research was supported by a grant from The Israel Foundations Trustees (Research Grant #19 for the years 2011–2013).

Address correspondence to Avishai Benish, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem—Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905 Israel. E-mail: avishai.benish@mail.huji.ac.il.


This study explores what happens to administrative justice and to the acceptability of frontline decisions in privatized and marketized models of service. Through the case study of privatized welfare-to-work in Israel, it shows the fundamental tension between outsourced discretion and traditional conceptions of administrative justice in which the trustworthiness of decisions relies on the idea that decision makers have no personal interest in the outcome of their decisions. It finds that in the Israeli case, contractors' financial interests were widely perceived as putting their professionals into a conflict of interest, thereby undermining trust in their decisions. At the same time, the study finds the program's managerial performance mechanisms did not provide an alternative legitimacy argument for the acceptability of decisions. The study also analyzes the ways policy makers reconstructed the decision-making systems to regain public acceptance of frontline decisions, while discussing both the potential and the limits of legitimizing outsourced discretion in such complex public services.