From judging accounts to acting as the prince’s adviser

Modernizing Injunctions
How the French audit office changed its techniques
By Thomas Lépinay

This article focuses on transformations of the work of the French Cour des comptes (Court of Auditors) between the 1980s and the 1990s. It details the evolutions of audit techniques; dismissing the old compliance audit, based on legal and formal criteria, members of the Court of Auditors gradually invented an audit based on performance. On its own initiative, the institution widened its missions to the “evaluation of public policies.” Public reports focused on more politically sensitive issues and included recommendations. In doing so, actors moved the much disputed boundary between the administrative and the political. This case study shows that the French New Public Management turn can be seen as the result of structural evolutions in senior civil service. As a matter of fact, we claim that the attempts by members of the Court of Auditors to change their work can be seen as a “ennoblement” of their profession, necessary to maintain their position in the context of a renewed competition within senior civil service.


  • French Court of Auditors
  • senior civil service
  • audit techniques
  • New Public Management
  • ennoblement
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