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Outsourcing Bureaucracy to Evade Accountability: How Public Servants Build Shadow State Capacity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 September 2022

Marquette University, United States
Jessica A. J. Rich, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Marquette University, United States,


The solution to weak bureaucratic capacity in developing countries is often presumed to be more accountability. This paper shows how accountability initiatives, intended to reduce corruption, can actually hinder the development of capable government agencies by making it harder for directors to recruit experts and spend their budgets. It further highlights a common way public servants escape the accountability rules that limit their effectiveness: outsourcing bureaucracies to nonstate organizations. This practice of outsourcing bureaucracy to avoid accountability rules creates what I call “shadow” state capacity and, paradoxically, it may help explain “pockets of effectiveness” among government social programs in developing countries. Drawing on in-depth interviews and descriptive statistics, I show how outsourcing was a critical factor in producing two of Brazil’s most vaunted social sector programs. However, I also suggest that outsourcing bureaucracy may ultimately limit state capacity, even if it helps to build capable programs in the short run.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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