Accountability of Public Servants at the Street Level

  • Fritz SagerEmail author
  • Eva Thomann
  • Peter Hupe
Living reference work entry


Public servants are accountable to the public – as their name suggests. However, the question of accountability is not as clear as it seems. Public servants working at the street level of government bureaucracy enjoy discretion in the implementation of public policies (Thomann, van Engen and Tummers, J Public Adm Res Theory 28(4):583–601, 2018a). In the context of regulatory governance, policy implementers more often than not enforce regulation and hence are regulators at the street level. They use discretion to make decisions that ultimately define policies and regulation; and they do so along different reference systems (Thomann, Hupe, and Sager F, Governance 31:299–319, 2018b). Lipsky (Street-level bureaucracy: dilemmas of the individual in public services. Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 1980, 2010) famously conceptualized the resulting dilemmas for this stratum of public servants. Maynard-Moody and Musheno (J Public Adm Res Theory 10:329–358, 2000) capture the core dilemma of those public servants’ accountability when interacting with clients with the distinction between “state agents” primarily following the law and “citizen agents” first of all addressing clients’ needs. In their accountability regimes framework, Hupe and Hill (Public Adm 85:85–102, 2007) introduce profession as third key reference institution, alongside state and society. In the course of new modes of governance, in particular contexts, private actors have gained an additional role as implementation agents. Sager et al. (Public Manage Rev 16:481–502, 2014) and Thomann et al. (2018) therefore extend the accountability regimes framework with market as central in the fourth accountability regime at the street level. The chapter presents the extended accountability regimes framework, illustrates it with empirical cases, and discusses regulatory and policy implications of the accountability dilemmas of street-level implementers.


Accountability Accountability regimes Rule pressure Action prescriptions Dilemmas, Implementation New modes of governance Street-level bureaucrats Street-level workers Hybridization 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the support by Deborah Fritzsche in drafting this chapter as well as the constructive comments by Jeroen van der Heijden.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.KPM Center for Public ManagementUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.College of Social Science and International StudiesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  3. 3.Public Governance InstituteCatholic University of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jeroen van der Heijden
    • 1
  1. 1.School of GovernmentVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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