New Book Alert: The Power of Accountability

The Power of Accountability; Offices of Inspector General at the State and Local Levels

by Robin J. Kempf

Migrant children separated from their parents.
A scheme to defraud Cook County using property tax breaks.
An undisclosed thirty-year business relationship between city officials in Baltimore.

These are the sorts of headlines regularly generated by offices of inspector general (OIGs)—bureaucratic units dedicated to government accountability that are commonly independent of the agencies they are charged with overseeing. In 1976, OIGs were virtually unheard of and were largely at the federal level, but today there are more than 170 OIGs overseeing state and local government entities. Why have OIGs been so widely adopted, and what do they do? How do they contribute to accountability, and what are their limitations? In The Power of Accountability Robin J. Kempf sets out to address these questions with empirical data and to examine the conflicts that have led to variations in the design and implementation of OIGs. In doing so she explores the power of the concept of the inspector general: an institutional model for keeping subnational government units accountable to the public.

As more and more government entities have created offices of inspector general, practitioners in this developing field have recommended an archetypal structure for these agencies that assures their authority and independence. Why then, The Power of Accountability asks, have so many states and localities incorporated significant deviations from this recommended model in their design? Through an extensive review of government websites, laws, and ordinances; original surveys of the identified OIGs; legislative histories; and interviews with thirty-eight OIG staff in eight states, Kempf analyzes why OIGs have proliferated, why and how they work differently in various jurisdictions, and what effect these variations in design have on the effectiveness of OIGs as a mechanism of accountability.

The ever-expanding call for accountability in government drives the increasing demand for offices of inspector general, which necessarily entails intense political maneuvering. The Power of Accountability is a uniquely useful resource for judging whether, under what circumstances, and how well OIGs fulfill their intended purpose and serve the public interest.

“Robin Kempf walks us step-by-step through the considerations involved in creating offices of inspectors general (OIGs) and in doing so provides us with a rich account—as ethnographic as it is statistically informed—of the institutionalization of one of our primary contemporary modes of public accountability. Using a rich variety of methods, she tells the story of how OIGs come into being and of why and how this model of institutional accountability has spread so widely across states. Her compelling account begs questions about the effectiveness of such models and will be a reference point for future scholars of accountability.”  – Nadia Hilliard, author of The Accountability State: US Federal Inspectors General and the Pursuit of Democratic Integrity

Funding for this work was provided by a grant from the Office for the Advancement of Research at John Jay College.

About the Author: Robin J. Kempf is assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, University of New York.

Roger R. Reese Wins 2019 Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., Prize

The World War One Historical Association’s 2019 Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., prize for the best work of history in English on World War One has been awarded to two exceptional historians: Yigit Akin for his When the War Came Home: The Ottomans’ Great War and the Devastation of an Empire (Stanford University Press); and Roger R. Reese for The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution 1856-1917 (University Press of Kansas).

In 2017 two books also won the Tomlinson prize. Three titles shared the award presented in 2011, 2016, and 2018. The Tomlinson awards began in 1999.

In December 1917, nine months after the disintegration of the Russian monarchy, the army officer corps, one of the dynasty’s prime pillars, finally fell—a collapse that, in light of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, historians often treat as inevitable. The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856–1917 contests this assumption. By expanding our view of the Imperial Russian Army to include the experience of the enlisted ranks, Roger R. Reese reveals that the soldier’s revolt in 1917 was more social revolution than anti-war movement—and a revolution based on social distinctions within the officer corps as well as between the ranks.

Reese’s account begins in the aftermath of the Crimean War, when the emancipation of the serfs and consequent introduction of universal military service altered the composition of the officer corps as well as the relationship between officers and soldiers. More catalyst than cause, World War I exacerbated a pervasive discontent among soldiers at their ill treatment by officers, a condition that reached all the way back to the founding of the Russian army by Peter I. It was the officers’ refusal to change their behavior toward the soldiers and each other over a fifty-year period, Reese argues, capped by their attack on the Provisional Government in 1917, that fatally weakened the officer corps in advance of the Bolshevik seizure of power.

As he details the evolution of Russian Imperial Army over that period, Reese explains its concrete workings—from the conscription and discipline of soldiers to the recruitment and education of officers to the operation of unit economies, honor courts, and wartime reserves. Marshaling newly available materials, his book corrects distortions in both Soviet and Western views of the events of 1917 and adds welcome nuance and depth to our understanding of a critical turning point in Russian history.

Roger R. Reese is professor of history at Texas A&M University. His many books include Why Stalin’s Soldiers Fought: The Red Army’s Military Effectiveness in World War II, Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the Red Army, 1925–1941, and Red Commanders: A Social History of the Soviet Army Officer Corps, 1918–1991, all from Kansas.

Timothy B. Smith Discusses “The Union Assaults at Vicksburg”

It was the third week of May 1863, and after seven months and six attempts, Ulysses S. Grant was finally at the doorstep of Vicksburg. What followed was a series of attacks and maneuvers against the last major section of the Mississippi River controlled by the Confederacy—and one of the most important operations of the Civil War. Grant intended to end the campaign quickly by assault, but the stalwart defense of Vicksburg’s garrison changed his plans. The Union Assaults at Vicksburg is the first comprehensive account of this quick attempt to capture Vicksburg, which proved critical to the Union’s ultimate success and Grants eventual solidification as one of the most significant military commanders in American history.

Establishing a day-to-day—;and occasionally minute-to-minute—;timeline for this crucial week, military historian Timothy B. Smith invites readers to follow the Vicksburg assaults as they unfold. His finely detailed account reaches from the offices of statesmen and politicians to the field of battle, with exacting analysis and insight that ranges from the highest level of planning and command to the combat experience of the common soldier. As closely observed and vividly described as each assault is, Smith’s book also puts the sum of these battles into the larger context of the Vicksburg campaign, as well as the entire war. His deeply informed, in-depth work thus provides the first full view of a key but little-studied turning point in the fortunes of the Union army in the West, Ulysses S. Grant, and the United States of America.

1. What’s your elevator pitch for The Union Assaults at Vicksburg? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

TS: The battlefield where the assaults took place is a national park, yet historians generally gloss over these events, concentrating instead on the siege or the earlier land campaign. But the assaults, while fostering little change in the actual situation at Vicksburg, did have huge strategic implications. Readers will have to dig in to find out how.

2. What was your inspiration to research and write about Grant’s was final series of attacks and maneuvers against the last major section of the Mississippi River controlled by the Confederacy?

TS: The main reason was because there has never been a detailed, comprehensive, tactical study of these important events. Also, I’ve always been fascinated with Vicksburg, including the assaults and siege that are interpreted at the Vicksburg National Military Park. Growing up in Mississippi, we went there often. Also, I had a grand total of four direct ancestors inside Vicksburg, and one who marched the other way with William Loring at Champion Hill. Researching and learning more about their actions was a definite motivation.

3. What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing the book?

TS: Probably matching the action as described on paper with the terrain. Plenty of records exist from reports to letters and diaries for us to be able to piece together a detailed rendition of what happened. But to overlay that on the battlefield itself is at places tricky, simply because over 150 years things have changed so much. Few of the original fortifications are still in existence, those in the park today being mostly recreations. While the original park commission did a good job of marking positions and events, seeing it how it would have been then is impossible, although recent deforestation at the park gives a better view shed. But so many roads, ravines, and ridges have changed that at places, such as around the visitor center for instance, where the battlefield has been permanently altered, it is difficult to determine exactly what was where.

4. Is it possible to imagine what would have happened had Vicksburg not fallen to the Union?

TS: By the time of the assaults, I don’t think that was a possibility. Grant had an open and secure line of communication and supply once he took Haynes’s and Snyder’s Bluffs on the Yazoo River, so he could outlast pretty much anything the Confederates did. Obviously, it didn’t hurt that he was facing two pretty much incompetent commanders. By May 18, it was all but a foregone conclusion that Vicksburg was doomed, barring of course Joe Johnston suddenly finding his spine. By then it was just a matter of determining how Vicksburg would be captured, quickly via direct assault or slowly by siege.

5. What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of Grant’s leadership as a military commander?

TS: In the public realm, most still think of him as a drunk, which modern scholarship has largely debunked. But old beliefs die hard and the alternative has not made its way into the public mind yet. Same thing with Grant as a butcher. Neither of those was his greatest flaw, however, which I believe happened to be overconfidence. That said, I think his adaptability and unflappability on the move was perhaps his greatest strength, and that is still largely misunderstood or not understood at all.

6. What attracted you Civil War research?

TS: As I mentioned, growing up in Mississippi between Shiloh and Vicksburg, we visited both often. As I grew older and began looking into my ancestors, I began to research their activities. That just led to larger research projects, and I found I love the treasure hunt nature of the research. You just never know what you might find next. The travel you get to do while on research trips is also fun.

7. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?

TS: That the assaults are not just something to gloss over, but were real actions that would be considered fairly large battles if they stood alone. And that they had immense repercussions.

8. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

TS: Interesting question. Maybe for obvious reasons my mother who died a couple of years ago, but then she never read a word of my other nineteen books so she probably wouldn’t have read this one either. History wasn’t her thing; we’d drop her off at a Wal Mart while we went on those battlefield visits. I’d probably have to say one of my ancestors in the 36th Mississippi who defended the Stockade Redan during the assaults, with the proviso that I could ask him how accurate I got the descriptions in the book!


Timothy B. Smith teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Martin. His many books include, most recently, Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson as well as Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation and Shiloh: Conquer or Perish, all published by the University Press of Kansas.

Three Things I Wish I Knew When I Went on the Academic Job Market

by Rachel Neff, author of Chasing Chickens; When Life after Higher Education Doesn’t Go the Way You Planned

I started preparing for the academic job market in the summer of 2012. Using my temporary title of instructor, I requested review copies of as many books as I thought I might end up using to teach. If I was going to spend the time to design a course for a committee, I wanted to use what I created when I walked into the classroom – a sort of measure twice, cut once sort of approach.

Spoiler alert: all the hours poured into job application packets resulted in no interviews, which translated into zero job offers. Back then, the Modern Language Association (MLA) had recently moved their annual conference from December to January, so I spent my winter holiday break with the sinking feeling that all I was going to get in the new year was the professional equivalent of a giant lump of coal in my stocking.

It’s January again. I’m here to tell you it’s time to stop refreshing the job wiki every five minutes. Don’t fret about rumors (or facts) of inside candidates and the heartbreak of canceled searches. You’re going to need to get pragmatic. This might sound harsh, but your advisors and your peers in the academy have little to no clue on how the wider working world works. You can chase the diminishing hope of a full-time, tenure track position, but know that there’s an entire world outside of academia.

I have friends in my cohort who graduated and got the academic jobs. They’ve called me, some crying, to say they wish they had my life – the one outside of academia. As someone who made the transition from academic to “other” in the checkbox of post-grad life, here are the three things I wish I had known in December 2012 that will still serve you in December 2019.

1. The Academic Job Market Can Feel Fickle

Perhaps one of the most comforting things that was said to me during the academic job application process was from my advisor, who said, “I don’t know why some people get jobs and others don’t. Your application packet was very strong.”

Looking back at my graduate career, I had tried everything to position myself for the job market. I started by attending conferences all over the United States. I’d organized several workshops and conferences. I served on committees. At the end of the day, that undercompensated labor meant nothing. Those activities don’t even get a mention on my current resume.

Thus, when facing complete silence or outright rejection from the academic job market, it is really hard not to blame yourself. I spent a lot of time wondering if I would have gotten a shot if I had “just attended that one summer conference” or if I had “only served on a few more committees.” The reality is that you can do everything right during your graduate studies and still end up with no job interviews or offers. That doesn’t make you a bad person or an inferior scholar. It means you were unlucky. You bought a lottery ticket to become a professor and your numbers weren’t called.

2. Counseling is One of the Best Investments in Yourself

The academic job market is emotionally draining. Again, you can do everything right. Have a beautiful CV and amazing job application packet. You can still end up with no interviews or no job offers.

Counseling is a great space to find support outside of your advisor and peers. There is something to be said about the confidential space that is created in therapy. Kvetching about a peer who is getting interviewed at a top tier school who you felt wasn’t the best won’t get back to them. You get a safe space to vent.

Access to mental health care in the United States can be difficult, but reach out to your campus mental or health services to see what options are available. Some schools offer emergency or crisis counseling for five to ten appointments. Some of these appointments can be free. Many campus services can help refer you to practitioners who offer sliding scale rates.

The job market can bring about an identity crisis. You’ve spent years preparing for a career and identity that may or may not be going forward. This can be a huge blow. Getting support during this time can really help your mental health. I certainly spent a lot of time bawling in a private office about how unfair things were and how unhappy I felt my last year of my PhD. I started out with weekly appointments, moved to biweekly, then went to once a month.

If the pain and overwhelming disappointment of not getting interviews or not getting a job becomes too much, please remember the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. While this is often a taboo or hush-hush topic, it is important to note that there are services available and you are not alone. The feelings of failure and despair are temporary. It sucks. It hurts. But you are not only your dissertation and job title. You are a wonderful, inquisitive human being who can and will find purpose and happiness, even if it’s not as a professor.

3. Life Outside of Academia is Rewarding

I’m here to tell you that life outside of the academy is surprisingly wonderful. Work is a job and life goes on. Do I still feel a twinge of sadness when my friends talk about teaching and grading and conferences? Sure. I’m human. That’s the life I thought I’d have.

But, for the most part, I’m making as much as most assistant to associate professors. I have health care. I bought a house. I run a side gig. I write fiction and poetry. I knit. I live near my family and I have a job I enjoy. Is it a bit perfunctory box checking? Probably. But I’m happy. I leave work at work.

There’s money to be made. Careers to be found. All outside of the university system. Choosing not to chase a tenure track position by doing visiting assistant professor gigs for years at a time doesn’t make you less of anything. Again, I’ve got friends from my cohort who call and say they wish they had my life. Most days, I’m happy with how things turned out.

You’re Going to be OK

You might not believe me right now. That’s fine. But you’re going to be OK if you don’t get an academic job. You’re going to land on your feet. Might not be a graceful landing, but you probably won’t crash. If you’re wondering what my journey was like, then please check out my book, Chasing Chickens: When Life after Higher Education Doesn’t Go the Way You Planned. Why yes, the chicken chasing is literal – and hilarious in hindsight.

For more advice on transitioning to the non-academic world, please check out the collection Succeeding Outside the Academy, edited by Kelly J. Baker and Joseph Fruscione. My chapter is titled, “How to Eat an Elephant; or, There’s Life Outside Academia.” (Do we see a theme?)

My poetry has been published in several journals. I have a chapbook published and work in three anthologies (Bearing the Mask and Weaving the Terrain from Dos Gatos press and They Said from Black Lawrence Press). I doubt I would have had the time and energy to devote to creative writing had I stayed in my PhD field of Spanish literature.

There are many possibilities out there for you, and you can and will find happiness and purpose in other places.


Rachel Neff, the owner of Exceptional Editorial in Portland, Oregon, has worked as a digital strategist, a copy editor, an adjunct instructor, and a tutor. She is the author of The Haywire Heart and Other Musings on Love and has published in numerous anthologies and magazines.