External Professionals in Public Policy-Making – II

Written by  //  January 18, 2011  //  Economic & Social Policy  //  13 Comments

In the first part of this piece, I detailed out certain events which I believe reflect a changing trend in the public policy-making process in India. In this part, I argue that this trend which has intensified since 2000s is being driven by growing complexity in public affairs and greater demand for political accountability and say demanded by a younger population.

Growing Complexity of Public Affairs

An important impetus for integration of non-governmental professionals in public policy-making process has been the increasing complexity and sophistication of public affairs. The affairs of the twenty-first century government is both continuously expanding and growing more complex. Compared to a few decades earlier, there are many variables and stakeholders in most public issues. Issues like trade negotiations, climate change, human rights, etc. have only made governmental decision-making more complex. Furthermore, in a fast globalizing India with an increasing international role, government’s policies are scrutinized not only by domestic stakeholders but also by the international community. Policy formulation in this environment can no more be done by generalist civil servants but requires experts. The government is responding to the same, although in an ad hoc manner, through lateral hiring.

This phenomenon is discernable not only in the many lateral appointments enumerated in the previous post, but also borne out in many governmental studies and statements. Elaborating on the changing nature of public administration, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) said that there is a need to recognize the complex challenges of modern administration in many sectors like policing, justice delivery, education, healthcare, transportation, land management among others.[1] In the questionnaires distributed by the ARC and the Sixth Central Pay Commission to elicit public opinion, both the Commissions had posed pointed questions regarding the relevance and importance of allowing lateral entry into the government.[2] The ARC concluded that there is almost a universal acknowledgment of the need to induct outstanding skills and talent from outside the government to staff some positions in government departments.[3] Even the Pay Commission recommended a shift from career-based to post-based selection in the higher echelons of Government in order to get the best domain based expertise.[4]

Earlier, even the Committee on Civil Service Reforms, 2004, had emphasized the importance of government officials gaining NGO and private sector experience. It had recommended that after a period of ten years in service civil servants should be encouraged to go on a sabbatical to acquire additional knowledge and update their skills including a lateral move to NGOs or the private sector and return to government without losing their seniority.[5]

Young Population Demanding Greater Political Accountability and Participation

Increasing use of non-governmental professionals is also influenced by demand for greater political accountability and participation driven by a younger population. The demographic profile of the country is seeing a huge change with the “youth bulge” – the working population is more than the dependent population with a greater number of younger people. This younger population, the primary stakeholder in India’s future, is demanding greater transparency in the government and more participative governance. The spread of internet, telecommunication and media is also acting as catalyst of political awareness and accountability. This demand for greater accountability implies higher scrutiny of governmental programmes and acts as an impetus for smart and sensible policies that are effective in dealing with complex public problems. As already noted, the government is aware of the paucity of specialist policy-makers and is increasingly looking for external support.

Not only is young India demanding better policies, it is also keen on being part of the policy-making process. The present Indian growth story is riding on the strength on this large young population’s rising expectations which has influenced the demand for more say in governmental affairs. Being part of this segment, I personally believe that young Indians are no more satisfied with mere periodic exercise of franchise but also want to engage with and in the government. Talking about his motivation to work with the government, a 25-year-old investment banker (who quit his job to work with UIDAI) said, “Young people, educated, highly mobile and intelligent, want to do things that will impact the country while they are still in the prime of their lives…”[6]A similar sentiment was echoed by our very own Arghya Sengupta (who assisted the Indian Parliament with inputs on Nuclear Civil Liability Bill) when he said that his interest arose from a desire to be engaged with India and its policies.[7]

Clearly, there is a strong urge to be part of government’s development programmes but not necessarily the bureaucracy. The tremendous growth of the economy means that the governmental affairs and regulation are expanding which offers great scope for creative problem-solving. The nature of the task is in itself very appealing which is drawing youngsters towards governmental work, but they do not necessarily want to be part of the government. The attractiveness of governmental work is borne out by the fact that youngsters want to work on governmental problem for strategic reasons. Many look at government work as a great learning experience which will enhance their prospects in the private sector.[8] Despite the allure of such work, there is an unwillingness to spend many years in the junior rungs of the government subjugating oneself to the whims and fancies of the seniors in civil service, especially when many lucrative career options have opened up for these youngsters in the private sector. [9] However, there are a number of youngsters who have given up plum jobs in the private sector and international organizations to work on governmental policy-making in various capacities for a variety of reasons. The underlying point is that young Indians today are keen about the governmental sector and are forcing themselves through lateral entry into the Parliament, government departments, planning bodies, regulatory authorities, etc.

Responses sent to the Sixth Pay Commission too reflect these aspirations of the general population too. The Commission had asked a specific question – whether there should be lateral movement from government to non-government jobs and vice versa. Over sixty percent of respondents from across the country preferred lateral movement into the government.[10]

Concluding Remarks

In addition to the above two reasons, shortcomings of the Indian bureaucracy in the nature corruption and institutional inertia against reform, ensure the continued use of external professionals in public policy-making in India in the days to come. In fact, in this emerging policy environment, questions are being raised over the wisdom of continuing with the virtual monopoly of civil services over all the positions in the government. The demand for change is coming from not only the general public but also within the civil service. In a recent survey of civil servants, fifty three percent of officers agreed with the idea of lateral entry at higher positions, and among those, twenty three percent strongly agreed. In comparison, thirty six percent of officers disagreed with this proposition with a mere thirteen percent strongly disagreeing.[11]

Going a step further, the ARC stated that there is a need to institutionalize the process of induction of outside talent into the government.[12] The various appointments, statements and surveys point to me that lateral entry of external professionals in public policy-making is here to stay. Institutionalizing the same through a formal process is certainly a good idea. The earlier the government brings in changes to formalize the process and give it an institutional shape, the better it is for the country.


[1]Reforms in Governance and Administration”, Approach Paper of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, available at http://arc.gov.in/reforms.htm (last visited on 7 December 2010).

[2]Issues for Civil Service Reforms: What Needs to be Achieved”, questionnaire distributed by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, available at http://arc.gov.in/q-csr.doc (last visited on 8 December 2010); Questionnaire, Sixth Central Pay Commission, Government of India at 5, available at http://india.gov.in/images/banner/linktousbanner/questionnaire.pdf (last visited on 10 December 2010).

[3] Second Administrative Reforms Commission, Tenth Report (Chapter 9) at 208.

[4] Report of the Sixth Central Pay Commission, Government of India, March 2008 at 645.

[5] Committee on Civil Service Reforms, 2004, Government of India at paragraph 4.04, available at http://darpg.nic.in/darpgwebsite_cms/Document/file/CivilServiceReforms2004.pdf (last visited on 12 December 2010).

[6]Youth Policy”, Indian Express, available at http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/717163/ (last visited on 9 December 2010).

[7]Oxford, Harvard minds helped N-Bill”, Hindustan Times, available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/Oxford-Harvard-minds-helped-N-Bill/Article1-593253.aspx (last visited on 9 December 2010).

[8]Youth Policy”, see above.

[9]Engage the Experts”, Business Standard, available at http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/a-k-bhattacharya-engageexperts/398960/ (last visited on 9 December 2010).

[10] Responses to the Sixth Central Pay Commission Questionnaire, Report of the Sixth Pay Commission (Annex), March 2008 at 327-329.

[11] Civil Services Survey – A Report (2010), Government of India at 34-35.

[12] Second Administrative Reforms Commission, see above at 208.

13 Comments on "External Professionals in Public Policy-Making – II"

  1. Arghya January 19, 2011 at 8:20 am ·

    Hi Varun, I think you’ve got it spot on. But do you think lateral hiring and experts being hired by government, perhaps on contract, will be a standard practice anytime soon? What time period would you give it?

  2. Varun Hallikeri January 20, 2011 at 6:04 am ·

    Hi Arghya,
    Thanks for your comment. Well, it is really difficult to put a timeline to the question of when lateral entry of external professionals will become a formal/standardized practice. Like other major administrative reforms, it requires political will (and more importantly political discipline) to bring it into the formal domain. Lot of noises are being made in the academic circles and by administrative reforms commissions. So, that is a positive sign. Personally, I feel that the middle of this new decade looks realistic.
    Varun

  3. Vikram Hegde January 20, 2011 at 4:34 pm ·

    Hi Varun,
    Lateral hiring is good. But unless it is tempered by a standardized selection system isn’t it possible that this also goes the way of allotment of contracts? It’s a slippery slope from there to something like a patronage based system.

    Vikram Hegde

  4. Prashant January 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm ·

    Hey Halli,

    Interesting pieces!

    Apart from lateral hiring, I think there is a need to create institutional mechanisms to allow for more general inputs into policy making. Currently the Parliamentary Standing Committees do provide for such input but the real need is for the bureaucracy to create such mechanisms within Ministries. So many times we have instances of Ministries directly introducing Bills in Parliament without even putting them for comments on their websites.

    Cheers,
    Prashant

  5. Varun Hallikeri January 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm ·

    Hi Vikram,
    While we do need some rules and standards in recruiting lateral entrants, a standardized selection system might defeat the purpose. Encouraging external professionals to join the government requires the government to shun bureaucratic process. In fact, given that external entrants come diverse backgrounds and their strength is their expert knowledge, it will be difficult to have one universal selection system. Yet, there is no denying that we need to have some guidelines for lateral entry. As I mentioned in my response to Arghya’s comment, the success of how well we use this opportunity depends on political discipline. Else, as you said it can become a system of political patronage. We can certainly learn from the experiences of other countries. This is an area of research for us in the days to come.
    Varun

  6. Malavika Raghavan January 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm ·

    Hi Varun – that was an interesting read!

    Lateral hiring is a big change to the existing institutional mechanism which would require immense political will to bring in, I think. The examples you point to have happened mainly at the behest of the person/government in power in our recent past. I would think a more immediate first step to involve external professionals in policy building would be through the inclusion of their views in the policy formation/building process? I know this is already underway for instance, the involvement of Lawyers Collective in the drafting of the AIDS bill a few years ago. I recently attended a talk by someone from the Brookings Institute, who in response to a question from the audience drew a parallel between the “marketplace” for ideas/strategies produced by public policy institutions (mainly research based of course) which exists in the US and the lack of the equivalent in India – both due to the absence of government interest in their views (!!) and also because of the scarcity/relative youth of the organizations that currently exist. To this end, initiatives like the PRS Legislative Research initiative in Delhi seem to be very heartening, and I’d imagine that this is a more immediate way to get people outside the IAS involved in public affairs. Perhaps this is something you have investigated?

    Malavika

  7. Varun Hallikeri January 23, 2011 at 3:51 am ·

    Dear Malavika,
    Thank you for your comment. I will add one more reason to the absence of strong policy think tanks (there are a few of course) in India and their engagement in public policy-making. The lack of funding – more importantly, without any strings attached.
    In terms of policy inputs, I would classify think tanks into two types – 1) think tanks which primarily give substantive (subject specific) advice; and 2) think tanks which help with the text of the policy. And, I would say that both are equally important. An input on the text of the policy without a strong knowledge of the subject matter is just as weak as a strong policy input without accurate text to capture it! PRS Legislative Research, in my opinion, is primarily doing the latter. Of course, in every input on the text of a policy there is some substantive subject matter input as well. Recently, Pre-Legislative Briefing Service (www.plbs.in – the website is still under construction) also briefed the Indian Parliament on important Bills. Incidentally, it was started by a group of young lawyers from India. I also happen to be part of this group now.
    So, I think that we need external experts in public policy at both these levels. As you rightly mentioned in the beginning of your comment, ‘political will’ is necessary to institutionalize this phenomenon. Going forward, we need to enquire what would be the ideal way (rules of the game) to institutionalize lateral entry of external professionals into the government.
    Regards
    Varun

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