Government at a Glance

2221-4399 (online)
2221-4380 (print)
Hide / Show Abstract

Published every two years, Government at a Glance provides indicators that compare the political and institutional frameworks of government across OECD countries.

Also available in French
Government at a Glance 2009

Government at a Glance 2009 You or your institution have access to this content

Click to Access:
  • PDF
  • READ
22 Oct 2009
9789264061651 (PDF) ;9789264061644(print)

Hide / Show Abstract

The actions and policies of government touch our daily lives in countless ways. Quantifying and measuring government actions can help leaders make better decisions, and can help to hold government accountable to its citizens. 

Government at a Glance is a new, biennial publication of the OECD providing over 30 indicators describing government performance. It compares the political and institutional frameworks of government across OECD countries, as well as government revenues, expenditures and employment. It also includes indicators describing government policies and practices in integrity, e-government and open government, and introduces several composite indexes summarising key aspects of public management practices in human resource management, budgeting and regulatory management. For each figure, the book provides a dynamic link (StatLink) which directs the user to a web page where the corresponding data are available in Excel® format.

loader image

Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Table of Contents

  • Mark Click to Access
  • Foreword
    This is the first edition of Government at a Glance, a new addition to the OECD’s At a Glance series. Government at a Glance fills an important gap in internationally comparative data and general knowledge on how governments work, providing indicators describing government institutions, structures, inputs and prevailing public management practices in OECD member countries. It also examines public governance issues that are important to governments’ capacity to address the long-term effects of the recent crises, and raises some questions facing governments as they look to further transform their public governance practices. This publication is particularly timely as the recent financial and economic crises have heightened the role of government in the economy and society, while requiring governments to be more efficient, effective and citizen-centred.
  • Preface
    The current financial, economic, social and environmental challenges place governments at centre stage. Having responded successfully to the unprecedented financial crisis of 2008, governments are now striving to exit from their exceptional interventions and to return economies to self-sustained growth. Meanwhile, they are also looking for policy solutions to climate change, poverty, ageing populations, migration and a host of other long-term concerns. Designing and implementing these policies draws on the capacity of governments to serve the public interest and to strengthen frameworks for well-functioning markets.
  • Introduction
    Government at a Glance is a new publication series produced by the OECD that explores emerging public governance issues and sets out indicators in a range of areas that, when examined together, constitute important building blocks of a wellfunctioning public management system. Chapter I – the special feature chapter – describes some key public governance issues that are important to governments’ capacity to address the long-term effects of the current financial and economic crises and links them to indicators presented further in the publication. It also raises some fundamental questions facing governments as they look to further transform their public governance systems to better adapt and respond to unpredictable environments. Chapters II-X provide a set of indicators that show the current role and reach of government, and focus on important aspects of government’s public management capacity. This new publication builds upon 20 years of expertise at the OECD in the area of public governance (defined as the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority) and public management, particularly in describing and analysing government activities, developing benchmarks and internationally comparative data, identifying good practices and monitoring results. It also benefits from a practitioner focus: the OECD’s unique access to senior-level officials in member governments provides perspective on how public administration works to support sectoral policies such as health or education, which are dealt with in other OECD At a Glance publications.
  • Current and Future Public Governance Challenges
    Governments have been concerned for quite some time with their institutional and human capacity to improve the livelihoods of citizens, the competitiveness or viability of business, the delivery of basic public services, and trust in regulatory institutions. As part of broad reform and change agendas, many OECD member countries have been developing and revising their governance institutions, frameworks and tools. The current global financial, economic, social and environmental challenges highlight the unique role of government in serving the public interest. They also direct renewed attention towards the institutions, policies and tools that help government deliver what citizens and businesses need and expect, highlighting areas where further changes may be needed, or where additional consideration may be required on how best to realise reform efforts. Not only are the regulatory rules, oversight systems and procedures for the financial services sector at the forefront of proposed actions by government, but the fiscal crisis has also put the role of governments, the scope of their activities and their effectiveness in advancing the public good at centre stage. In particular, governments are looking at how they can improve their capacity to anticipate and manage risks, and react quickly to complex problems in changing environments. Due to the global nature of these challenges, it is no longer enough to act at the national level. International co-operation and co-ordination is proving to be a critical element of any credible and effective policy response.
  • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Government Revenues

    • Mark Click to Access
    • General government revenues
      The amount of revenues collected by countries is related to historical and current political decisions regarding the goods and services governments provide and the way that they are produced. For example, if governments provide support via tax breaks, revenue to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios will be lower. In addition, for OECD member countries that are also members of the European Union, the Maastricht criteria include targets for the size of deficits and debts that may affect the size of revenues in any given year.
    • Structure of general government revenues
      A country’s revenue structure determines who pays for public services and goods. By spreading revenues across different instruments, countries can distribute the burden across particular groups of citizens and/or sectors of the economy.
    • Revenue structure by level of government
      Revenue structures and transfers between government levels illustrate the degree of fiscal autonomy of sub-central governments and their ability to shape public policy and public service delivery. These abilities are also affected by a country’s institutional structure; federal states share sovereignty with sub-central governments that, consequently, may have more power to shape public policies.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Government Expenditures

    • Mark Click to Access
    • General government expenditure
      Government expenditures as a share of GDP and expenditures per capita indicate the size of the government and reflect historical and current political decisions about its role in providing services and in redistributing income. However, a large part of the variation in these ratios across countries display the different approaches to delivering goods and services and giving social support, rather than true differences in resources spent. For instance, if support is given via tax breaks rather than direct expenditure, expenditure/ GDP ratios will naturally be lower. In addition, for OECD member countries that are members of the European Union, the Maastricht criteria include targets for the amount that expenditures can exceed revenues in any given year. Finally, it is important to note that the size of expenditures does not reflect government efficiency or productivity.
    • General government expenditure by function
      Governments can choose to spend their money on a variety of goods and services, from providing child care to building bridges to subsidising alternative energy sources. For OECD member countries that are members of the European Union, common policy goals regarding economic growth, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and research and development (among others) may also affect the structure of expenditures. The variance among countries in expenditures as a share of GDP is mainly explained by political differences about the role of government in providing social protections (unemployment insurance, old age pensions and disability benefits). When government spending on social protection is excluded, expenditures range between 20% and 30% of GDP in all countries. Social protection is the largest category of expenses in all but three countries: Korea spends the most on economic affairs whereas the United States and Iceland spend more on health than any other government function.
    • General government expenditure by level of government
      The responsibility for financing goods and services fall to different levels of government across OECD member countries. For example, in some countries, policing is the responsibility of local government while in others it falls to central authorities. However, these are also affected by a country’s institutional structure: when central governments in federal states share sovereignty with sub-central governments, those sub-central governments may have more power to shape policies and programmes.
    • General government expenditure by type
      Comparisons across countries of the proportion of benefits provided in cash by governments to eligible parties can illustrate differences in economic and social policies. Particularly within redistribution programmes (such as unemployment and health assistance), governments can provide benefits in cash (e.g. pensions) or in kind (e.g. food stamps or housing vouchers). OECD member countries spend more money on in-kind goods and services than cash transfers. Cash transfers generally have lower transaction costs, larger multiplier effects in the economy and provide individuals with more choice. However, governments may prefer in-kind transfers because it may be hard to identify eligible individuals, they want to control the delivery process, and/or they want to ensure that individuals receive adequate food, medical services or housing.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Intersection Between the Public and Private Sectors

    • Mark Click to Access
    • Production costs in general government
      Decisions about the amount and type of goods and services to produce, as well as how best to produce them, are often political in nature and based on a country’s social and cultural context. While some governments choose to outsource a large portion of the production of goods and services to non-governmental or private entities, others choose to produce the goods and services themselves.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Public Employment

    • Mark Click to Access
    • Employment in general government and public corporations
      Large differences in government employment among countries reflect choices regarding the scope, level and delivery method of public services. In terms of delivery methods, some countries prefer the work of government employees, while others choose to contract with the private sector. As a result, government employment should be interpreted in the perspective of the costs of goods and services funded by government but produced by the private sector, a topic discussed in Chapter IV.
    • Decentralisation of employment
      The proportion of government staff employed at subcentral levels is a potential indicator of the level of decentralisation of public administration and the level of responsibility accorded to state and/or local governments. In general, the larger the staff at subcentral levels, the more responsibilities these governments would be expected to have for providing public services. While decentralisation is generally thought to improve government response to local needs and priorities, it can lead to differences between central and sub-central government interests and human resource management practices, as well as variations in service delivery within countries.
    • Employment of women in central government
      Many OECD member countries have established policies aimed at increasing female participation in the government workforce, especially at managerial levels, to increase equity, diversity and the size of the labour pool.
    • Ageing workforce
      While the government must respond to the changing demands made by an ageing society (such as declining demand for primary education and increasing demand for health and elderly care services), government workers are themselves ageing. A very large proportion of the central government workforce will be retiring over a relatively short period of time. Maintaining the government’s capacity to deliver the same level and quality of services remains a complex issue. Significant staff departures create an opportunity to bring staff with new skills into government, downsize the workforce where needed, decrease staff costs (as entry-level salaries are lower) and re-allocate human resources across sectors. However, this can lead to loss of capacity and the need to postpone the retirement of some key staff. In addition, given the large share of government employment in many OECD member countries, these high replacement needs could risk pre-empting the private sector’s access to new labour market entrants.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Human Resource Management Practices

    • Mark Click to Access
    • Delegation in human resource management
      Public managers are expected to improve the performance of their organisations and the outcome of their activities. As such, they have to work with their staff to encourage, enable and support them in a continuous quest for improved quality and productivity while simultaneously upholding core public sector values. By delegating some authority for HRM to line ministries, departments and agencies, governments aim to increase the ability of public sector managers to adapt working conditions to the business needs of their organisation and to the merits of individual employees. As HRM responsibilities have been delegated to line ministries, the role of the central HRM body has begun to focus more on setting minimum standards and formulating policy rather than implementing them. However, delegation is not without risks, which can include an increased variability of conditions of employment across government organisations, decreased mobility of staff, and difficulties in maintaining shared government values and a whole-ofgovernment perspective.
    • Central government recruitment systems
      The objective of recruitment systems is to ensure that government organisations have the right number of people with the right skills and values at the right time.
    • Staff performance management
      A focus on performance is at the core of modernising public administrations in most OECD member countries. Assessing performance is often the first step in recognising both individual and collective efforts in a more fair and objective manner. At the same time, performance assessments can clarify the goals of the organisation for staff, linking their roles to organisational objectives and helping implement change. However, creating a performance management system does not in itself improve performance. Its success, in part, depends on goals and strategies being clearly defined and communicated to employees, and on managers’ ability to objectively assess and measure performance.
    • Senior civil service
      Countries need senior civil servants who are able to pursue performance-oriented management, ensure cohesion across ministries, and at the same time protect the ethos of a politically neutral and professional public administration. The senior civil service is the interface between politicians and the public administration. They are responsible for the implementation of legal instruments and political strategies. They are also responsible for the coherence, efficiency and appropriateness of government activities. Thus, the capacity of the senior civil service has become a key public governance issue.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Budget Practices and Procedures

    • Mark Click to Access
    • Fiscal sustainability
      Ageing populations and the economic downturn pose severe challenges for the sustainability of public finances. As the costs of addressing these challenges rise more quickly than revenues, government solvency and economic growth are threatened. In addition, governments face reduced capacity to pay for current public services with today’s revenues, and may have to raise taxes or cut back services in the future.
    • Budget disclosures
      Publicly available, comprehensive budget documentation can make it easier for the public to understand fiscal policies and government priorities. Budget disclosures can contribute to fiscal discipline, the effective allocation of resources and operational efficiency. They can enable governments to be held accountable for producing realistic and sustainable budgets, and for the social and economic impact of planned policy measures. Because the availability of information within the budget document does not necessarily assure its accuracy, citizens and legislators must use the information to hold the government accountable for achieving better budget outcomes.
    • Medium-term budget perspective
      In order to improve fiscal discipline, many countries have adopted medium-term budget and/or expenditure frameworks that typically span between three and five years, including the budgeted fiscal year. The medium-term perspective may include estimates of revenues and expenditures and/or targets or ceilings for spending. It signals the direction of policy and funding changes and gives actors time to adjust. It also helps identify room in the budget that can be allocated for new and existing programmes. Thus, it can enable decision makers to consider the cost of competing programmes before they make funding decisions, while increasing the predictability of funding during programme implementation. OECD member countries that are members of the European Union are required to report medium-term objectives; however, legislatures may or may not incorporate these when formulating the budget.
    • Performance-oriented budgeting
      In the current economic environment in particular, OECD member countries are under pressure to improve government efficiency and effectiveness while controlling expenditures. While all OECD member countries are developing information to assess their government’s performance, there is a wide variation in the type of information produced and the extent of coverage. Formal performance information refers to both performance measures (outputs and/or outcomes) and evaluations. Objective performance information can contribute to better decisions on resource use and programme management. For example, performance information can help to identify programmes that are working and those that are not, enabling managers to improve poor-performing programmes. However, it is important to note that implementing a performance budgeting system requires good quality data.
    • Executive budget flexibility
      In order to address changing and unforeseen circumstances, the executive, ministries and agencies may need to have some flexibility to be able to adapt spending during the implementation of the budget. Even with a sound budget formulation process, economic assumptions can change, input prices can fluctuate and evolving political priorities can call for the reallocation of budgeted resources. For example, many countries have recently adjusted spending midway through the budget year to address unforeseen circumstances related to the financial crisis.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Regulatory Management

    • Mark Click to Access
    • Regulatory impact analysis
      Regulatory impact analysis (RIA) is a key policy tool that can provide decision makers with detailed information about the potential effects of regulatory measures on the economy, environment and social arrangements. RIA looks at all possible impacts of regulation, including costs and benefits, as well as sustainability. It assesses the capacity of government agencies to enforce regulation and the capacity of affected parties to comply. RIA processes should also include an ex post evaluation of whether regulations are functioning as expected.
    • Simplification strategies
      For many OECD member countries, reducing the burden of government regulations on business and citizens is a large part of their strategy to improve economic performance and productivity. Red tape can be particularly burdensome to small business, where the proportion of resources diverted to administrative functions is greater than for large firms.
    • Formal consultation
      Transparency is one of the central pillars of effective regulation. Businesses need to be able to fully understand the regulatory environment in which they operate, and to have a voice in regulatory decision making. It is a major challenge to governments to ensure that their regulatory processes take into consideration the views of all groups in society (OECD, 2005). Transparency promotes regulatory quality by incorporating feedback about the design and effects of regulation. It increases the likelihood of compliance by building legitimacy in regulatory proposals and may therefore improve the effect of regulation and reduce the cost of enforcement.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Integrity

    • Mark Click to Access
    • Conflict-of-interest disclosure by decision makers
      Citizens’ trust in government is weakened when public officials allow personal bias to pervade their decision making. At a time when the interface between public and private sectors has significantly increased, measures for preventing and managing conflict of interest are crucial to ensure that the integrity of decision making is not compromised by public officials’ private interests.
    • Public interest disclosure: Whistle-blowing
      The risk of corruption is significantly heightened in a secretive environment. Facilitating the reporting of misconduct can substantially help monitor compliance and detect misconduct. OECD member countries are increasingly providing procedures for public officials to “blow the whistle” or raise concerns about suspected misconduct of other public officials and the violation of laws. Whistle-blowing is seen as a manifestation of an open organisational culture where public officials are aware of and have confidence in procedures to report their concerns. It is also seen as a solution to safeguard the public interest in order to maintain confidence in public organisations. Although whistle-blowing has remained a bona fide action to defend the public interest, a few countries, for example Korea, have also introduced financial incentives to facilitate whistle-blowing.
    • Preventing corruption: Public procurement
      Knowing about the main sources and forms of corruption helps decision makers to focus anti-corruption efforts and disburse resources to establish effective countermeasures. A survey of international business executives conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2006 identified public procurement as the government activity most vulnerable to corruption in OECD member countries and beyond.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Open and Responsive Government

    • Mark Click to Access
    • Open government legislation
      Today, the legal framework for open government is largely in place in OECD member countries, and consists of...
    • E-Government readiness
      A high level of readiness to develop and implement e-government services is a prerequisite for a highperforming and innovative public sector that delivers integrated services, making life easier for citizens and businesses. E-government readiness is therefore a significant indicator of whether a country is prepared to harvest efficiencies gained from ICT-enabled public administrations.
    • E-Government service maturity
      Since 2000, OECD member countries have been working towards making all public services for citizens and businesses fully available online. In addition to the potential efficiencies gained by lowering the administrative burdens on clients, developing and implementing integrated e-government services often requires governments to standardise internal processes and data in order to integrate back-office functions across the public sector. However, some countries have legal or regulatory constraints that limit or prevent them from sharing data for service integration. Nevertheless, e-government service maturity can be a proxy for the extent to which countries are generating internal efficiencies through the use of ICT.
    • Uptake of e-government services
      For e-government to be successful and for its efficiencies to be fully realised, citizens and businesses must be willing to use e-government services on a regular basis. The maturity of those services and the internal efficiencies associated with providing them can only be realised if people use this delivery channel.
    • Add to Marked List
  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Annexes

    • Mark Click to Access
    • Methodology for Revenue Aggregates
      The following table provides detailed information about how the aggregates of taxes, social contributions, and grants and other revenues presented in indicators 1-3 were constructed from the OECD National Accounts data.
    • Classification of the Functions of Government (COFOG)
      Developed by the OECD, the Classification of the Functions of Government (COFOG) classifies government expenditure data from the System of National Accounts by the purpose for which the funds are used. As Table B.1 illustrates, first-level COFOG splits expenditure data into ten “functional” groups or sub-sectors of expenditures (such as defence, education and social protection), and second-level COFOG further splits each firstlevel group into up to nine sub-groups. While first-level COFOG data are available for 27 out of the 30 OECD member countries, second-level COFOG data are currently only available for 13 OECD European member countries.
    • Composite Indexes for HRM, Budget Practices and Regulatory Management
      The narrowly defined composite indexes presented in Government at a Glance represent the best way of summarising discrete, qualitative information on key aspects of public management practices, such as the type of HRM system or flexibility in budgeting practices. “Composite indexes are much easier to interpret than trying to find a common trend in many separate indicators” (Nardo et al., 2004). However, their development and use can be controversial. These indexes are easily and often misinterpreted by users due to a lack of transparency as to how they are generated and the resulting difficulty to truly unpack what they are actually measuring.
    • Detailed Data from the 2009 Survey on Integrity
      This Annex provides data for each country on how core values are communicated to central government employees; the types of private interests that they require central government decision makers to disclose as well as the level of transparency; procedures in place for public officials to report misconduct or suspected corruption; and the types of protection offered to whistle-blowers. Data are from the OECD 2000 and 2009 Survey on Integrity. Respondents to the survey were OECD member country delegates in charge of integrity in central government.
    • Contextual Factors
      This annex provides data on several administrative and institutional features of each country, including: the composition and electoral system of the legislature, the structure of the executive branch, the division of power between one central and several regional or local governments, and key characteristics of the judicial system. It also provides basic data on population and GDP for 2007.
    • Members of the Steering Group
    • Glossary
    • Add to Marked List
Visit the OECD web site