Salami tactics and the implementation of large-scale public projects

Markus Hinterleitner (KPM Center for Public Management, University of Bern)

Announcements for large-scale public projects typically provide politicians with opportunities to soak up some of the limelight. However, subsequent implementation phases of these projects often prove bumpy. In his article “Salami tactics and the implementation of large-scale public projects” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Markus Hinterleitner shows that when public projects’ costs outrun projected budgets and deadlines are unlikely to be met, politicians turn to a blame management strategy that has been widely neglected in the literature on policy implementation: the stepwise announcement of delays and cost-overruns, commonly known as ‘salami tactics’. Markus shows that the application of salami tactics has prominently featured in two large-scale public projects beset by a multitude of implementation issues, the Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Germany and the Swiss National Exposition Expo.02. While such tactics appear popular among reputation-sensitive politicians, as they allow the latter to portion blame into smaller, less damaging parts, Markus cautions that these strategies can have detrimental effects. He argues that by “delaying the revelation of a project’s real benefit-cost ratio (BCR), salami tactics prevent adaptations and readjustments in the early stages of the implementation phase that could save public resources.”