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Who (in the United States) invented public budgeting? Irene Rubin contends that, although business is often touted as the model for governmental improvements in budgeting and accounting, it turns out that government officials and academics, often working in concert, invented, imported, and modified public budgeting in the United States. They were encouraged, often pushed, by business groups but generally resisted copying business practices, which were not very good at the time. The story of the origins of budgeting in the United States was to some extent intentionally distorted to make business owners look good. The extent to which business was wrongly described as the origin of improved public practices is suggestive of similar efforts today to ascribe good practices to businesses and bad practices to government. It is important to remember, Rubin argues, that in the early part of this century, public officials responded to criticisms about increased expenditures and lack of sufficient financial control by improving their own management. We should take pride in their accomplishments, and in our capacity to correct our own mistakes. We should be wary of assuming that business practices are what the public sector needs.
Public Administration Review © 1993 American Society for Public Administration