Public administration reform in Romania: Assessing the past and looking into the future.

AuthorProfiroiu, Constantin Marius
  1. Introduction: investing in public administration

    At the European level, public administration investments aim to continuously improve the cost-effectiveness, quality and efficiency of public services. Increasing citizens' trust in state institutions, strengthening social cohesion and the attractiveness of the public sector as a major employer are the main objectives of modernizing and transforming public administration (Gottschall et al., 2015). Substantial change in public administration remains focused on boosting performance, effective coordination, and meeting sustainable governance indicators (e.g., strengthening executive capacity as well as participatory and supervisory powers).

    In this scenario, the transformation of the state and public administration is located at the intersection of constitutional, institutional and cultural continuity on the one hand, and adaptation and change in response to economic, social and political crises and pressures on the other (Pierre and Ingraham, 2010, p. 4). The current challenges faced by public administrations at the national and European level are anchored in the paradigm of the need to adapt public services to demographic, technological, social and economic changes in order to meet the standards of quality, equity and efficiency at low cost and accessible to all citizens (Durant, 2020; Liou, 2001; Caiden, 1991, 1999).

    In this article, we argue that to overcome the consequences of the economic and social crises that have hampered and reduced the pace of development and modernization of states, it is necessary to provide better services in support of increasing social cohesion and encouraging innovation and competitiveness. The need to rapidly digitalize and integrate smart solutions, in order to reduce the regulatory burden, represents a real opportunity to diversify and expand the interaction between clients, suppliers and beneficiaries of public services. The digitalization of the 2022 population and housing census is the first step, indicating the potential for people's digital skills and public administration's capacity to adapt and innovate.

    We propose that the transformation of public administration cannot succeed in the absence of a correct diagnosis and institutional mechanisms and practices compatible with the moral, democratic and modern dimensions of good governance (Raiu, 2013, 2015). The culture and ethics of public administration have the role of setting up and adjusting the process of transformation and modernization, which is why orienting its goals towards results and performance needs to be completed with stimuli and tools that emphasize the promotion of integrity, professionalism and devotion to the fulfillment of legal and moral tasks and responsibilities. In the Romanian space, the transformation of public administration needs to be calibrated simultaneously on the fulfillment of the standards regarding legality, ethics and managerial performance (Blackman, Buick and O'Donnel, 2021, p. 294).

  2. Research design of the study

    2.1. Rationale

    The horizontal dimension of public administration highlights the need to develop and capitalize on human potential, the main challenge being the attraction and retention of well-qualified personnel (Christensen, 2012; Beck, 2021).

    We believe that in the case of Romania the new dimensions of the transformation process emphasize the need to integrate and capitalize on good governance in the institutional architecture fairly and efficiently, in order to boost the quality of public services and institutions, and to optimally manage the available resources (Raiu, 2013, 2015). As a catalyst for economic growth, the transformation process at the central and local level needs to be adapted to both changes in the global economy and sanitary and security challenges (Liou, 2001; Lampropoulou, 2018).

    The payroll and the continuous evaluation of the officials working for public institutions and authorities generate considerable effort and resources (financial and time); in particular, an increased responsibility to maximize and capitalize on the expertise and the broad and complex dimension of human resource. Applying integrity and performance criteria to over 1,200,000 budgetary employees (according to the data of the Ministry of Finance, July 2022), of which more than 60% are employed in central public administration, requires a significant sustained effort from public institutions and authorities. In order to boost the continuous training of the human resource and stimulate professional ascent on the basis of merit, performance and professional integrity are needed, as are concrete, predictable and transparent mechanisms, and tools.

    Directly related to the quality of public services and their ability to adapt to new opportunities and challenges are economic growth and improved living standards in the country (Pollit and Bouckaert, 2011). Intensified modernization and Europeanization of public administration are preconditions for sustainable development, and a stimulus for the private environment, by promoting a model focused on stimulating and rewarding performance, innovation and the fulfillment of legal and moral responsibilities and duties. For Romania, we consider it a priority to connect in depth to the opportunities and advantages of digitalization, in urban and rural areas, through the digitalization of public services (e-government), integration of human capital in the digital economy and development of technologies and infrastructures (European Commission, 2022).

    The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) is today the most important development project for European Romania in the green and digital age. In order to strengthen the resilience of public administration to new challenges and increase preparedness to crisis situations, the capacity for adaptation and innovation, as well as the potential for growth, the NRRP principles aim at: (1) balanced allocation of resources to mitigate polarized territorial development; (2) intensifying the process of decentralization in response to subsidiary challenges of communities; (3) proximity to citizens and beneficiaries through greater involvement of local authorities. Based on these objectives, measures are to be uniformly applied at the central and local level, in a predictable, substantiated and participatory manner, reflecting the needs of citizens and businesses and driven by investments into efficient human resource management resulting in a body of expert civil servants. The transformation of public administration thus occupies a central place in the architecture of the opportunities enjoyed by Romania, as an EU Member State, through the NRRP.

    2.2. Hypotheses and aims

    Our main hypothesis highlights the need for a coherent, uniform and predictable approach at the central and local level to facilitate a deep and broad transformation of public administration to a high standard, characterized by stimulating performance and increasing the quality, efficiency and yield of public services. In Romania's case, the interconnection and interdependence between the main four pillars of public administration transformation is a requirement to overcome the dysfunctions and discrepancies that have characterized the development and modernization of public institutions and services until now. We believe that the perspectives and objectives for transforming public administration in the next ten years need to be articulated in relation to these four pillars, namely: (1) improving the mechanisms for recruitment, motivation, evaluation and promotion of civil servants; (2) increasing decentralization; (3) increasing the efficiency and quality of public policies; (4) digitalizing, diversifying and expanding alternative tools geared towards seizing opportunities.

    The secondary hypothesis captures the sequentiality of the process of transformation and modernization of public administration, as it reacts to a succession of economic, social and political crises and new challenges and opportunities. Today, this reactive approach needs to be complemented with a defined vision in order to strengthen the ability to anticipate and diagnose, at all levels, the current stage of the development and modernization of the public administration, as well as its trajectories.

    The examination of strategic documents and the case study analysis of the transformation of public administration in Romania, from 1990 to the present, aim to highlight the qualitative dimension of the complex process of the development and modernization of public institutions and the administrative apparatus. This study will be relevant to decision-makers, practitioners and researchers, through the macro-level analysis of sequential changes made in response to crises and challenges. They have highlighted the need for better use and allocation of human, financial and institutional resources in order to provide efficient and equally accessible public services at the central and local level. Our analysis aimed to identify the imperative and irreversible changes needed in the organization and operation of public administration to stimulate both citizens and businesses, as well as civil servants and the public and political elite. Within this paradigm, our analysis aimed to recognize the internal capacities of public administration to provide predictability, coherence and rational resource management.

    2.3. Methodological framework and its limitations

    The transformative capacity of public administration requires a methodological framework adapted to investigating institutional practice and changes in institutional design and functionality over time at central and local levels (Rihoux and Grimm, 2006; Creswell, 2014; Brown et al., 2016). In order to conduct a reliable analysis, we structured our research in relation to the four most representative pillars for the organization and coherent functioning of the public...

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