Modern Public Administration Methods Should Make Use of Soviet Experience

22 may 2017

Economic historians carried out a critical analysis of a number of aspects of the Soviet public administration system, identifying both positives and negatives; however, their findings are not regarded as resources for improving the effectiveness of public administration today. However, borrowing some practices from the Soviet past could help assess the effectiveness and side effects of some administrative tools before they are deployed and thus adjust the way in which they are to be used before they are introduced, Analytical Center expert Aleksey Safronov believes. That was the topic of his report at the International Conference "Public Administration and Development of Russia: Selecting Priorities", which was held by the Institute of Public Service and Governance of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

The report included a section titled Modern Development Trends in the System of Public and Municipal Administration: Theory, Practice, Education, in which Mr. Safronov noted that in recent years a number of public administration tools that were in wide use in the USSR have been spontaneously re-emerging for reasons very similar to those that informed their original genesis.

For example, when planning began developing in the USSR in the 1920s and the government eventually started moving from capital investment plans to planning every detail of budgeting various resources, a process which eventually evolved into a command economy. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, economic plans were used to compile target programs. The developing of budgeting in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s was also characterized by a transition to state programs and the introduction of result-oriented budgeting. "In both cases similar problems arose having to do with coordinating medium-term programs and annual plans (referred to as budgets today), as well as problems stepping from lack of coordination between various programs," the expert believes.

The development of a system of strategic planning documents in the USSR included long-term, medium-term and annual national economic plans broken down by industry and territory. Meanwhile in Russia, according to the federal law on strategic planning, it includes long-term plans (forecasts and strategies), state programs and plans of activities for federal executive authorities as well as annual budgets. "The modern system also attempts to combine industry and territorial planning in the development strategies of macro-regions. In both cases, the medium-term plans, the so-called five-year plans in Soviet times and what are called state programs now override long-term plans (strategies), as in effect they end up being given greater priority," Mr. Safronov believes.

Another similarity, according to the expert, is the development of information technology systems and decision making support systems by various government ministries and agencies. "Despite the fact that large amounts of money were invested in their development both in the USSR and today, management decisions were still being made then and are still being made now with only limited use of scientific methods," the expert believes.

In his opinion, parallels could also be drawn when it comes to the attempts to control pricing, citing of public opinion to back up state priorities, changes in the methodologies of statistical reporting to ensure formal achievement of specific targets etc.