Reading Report – Digital Government #2

Book Name:
Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance

By: Darrell M. West

Reported by: Aldwin Urbina (M1)

Chapter 2 / Bureaucratic, Fiscal and Political Contexts


This chapter presents the bureaucratic, fiscal, and political settings in which e-government takes place. The author explained how such factors, as determinants of technological change, affect the ability of the Internet to improve public service delivery.

Bureaucrats and politicians play major roles in adopting new technology. They make decisions on how to allocate funds and mediate conflict.  They manage the different priorities of government and create alliances to support their cause. These kinds of affairs can determine the rate of technology diffusion in the government.

Several decades ago, American citizens were remarkably being cynical about government and the bureaucracy. Somehow, citizen confidence in the government has been marred by inadequate public sector performance. Inefficiency in the delivery of government services caused dissatisfaction by citizens with the government.

To provide solution to the problem, the United States government introduced the New Public Management (NPM), which denotes broadly the government policies that are intended to modernize and render more effective governance. Key features of this strategy are greater focus on results in the public sector and that market competition and outsourcing to the private sector several services traditionally provided by the government will improve government responsiveness and efficiency. In this management model, citizens were thought of as customers and the government became more entrepreneurial and innovative in the use of its resources. The expectation was that such management model will result in restructuring government functions and will produce greater efficiencies and better performance. However, there were opposing views on the market-based function of government. Some critics thought that what the government actually needed was a well-trained civil service and strong civil administration. Several scholars have tried to examine the relationship between bureaucratic performance and the civil service sector. However, there was little empirical analysis of bureaucratic attitudes toward the emerging prospect of e-government.

From the several conducted bureaucrats surveys on the adoption of e-government, the general predisposition of administrators toward e-government is positive. However, there are several identified constraints that impede the realization of the full potential of the Internet in government service delivery and interactive democracy. First constraint is the Two-Systems Problem which refers to the dilemma on maintaining multiple delivery systems (e.g., Internet, face-to-face, telephone, mail) by the government. Such systems are considered more costly and can create potential organizational conflict. Second is the issue on Bureaucratic Fragmentation which emerges from the different levels and types of adoption and diffusion of technology among the different government entities. Third is the problem on Budgetary Resources. Since new technologies are always expensive especially in terms of upfront costs, implementation of e-government can be very costly and requires substantial financial resources from the government. Expenditures on e-government can compete with expenditures on education, health care and social welfare. Thus, it may be difficult to justify the cost of e-government considering the aforementioned and that greater evidence is necessary for e-government initiatives to be considered worth the public investment. Fourth is the Group Conflict and Outsourcing which refers to the discord whether the government should undertake certain functions/tasks or rely on private vendors when they can. Should the private sector takeover the responsibility of undertaking the tasks, the question is to what extent it should take the responsibility for technical innovation in the public domain. Fifth and the last issue is on the degree of Leadership, Partisan Conflict, and Media Coverage. Since e-government is subject to the same political forces as traditional government, there is danger that citizens will grow cynical about electronic governance and alter the positive view on e-government as a technocratic mechanism for the improvement of government service delivery. In view of the foregoing, leaders, politicians and the media can play major roles on the success of adopting of e-government.

Reporter’s Own Thoughts

The implementation of e-government is no easy task; changing the mindset of all stakeholders on the importance of e-government, which is needed to ensure its successful adoption, is a task that is even more difficult to accomplish. This chapter clearly explains the how the administrative/governmental environment greatly affects the realization of the full benefits of ICTs in governance. No matter how great the potential of e-government in improving government efficiency in delivering public services, such potential cannot be realized if the identified constraints will not be addressed.