Public administration can be broadly described as the development, implementation and study of branches of government policy. Public administration is linked to pursuing the public good by enhancing civil society and social justice. Though public administration has historically referred to as government management, it increasingly encompasses non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are not acting out of self-interest.
The history of public administration
The evolution of the theory of Public Administration can be classified into six "generations": one pre-generation and five succeeding generations.
The pre-generation includes thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli. Until the birth of the national state, the emphasis lay principally on the problems of moral and political nature, and on the organization of the public administration. The operation of this administration was a less urgent problem. Machiavelli wrote the book The Prince, which offered a guideline for European rulers. The operation of the administration, and not only the organization, also profited from the attention it received in this book.
From the 16th century, the national state was the reigning model of the administrative organization in Western Europe. These states needed an organization for the implementation of law and order and for setting up a defensive structure. The need for expert civil servants, with knowledge about taxes, statistics, administration and the military organization grew.
In the 18th century the need for administrative expertise grew even further. Therefore King Frederick William I of Prussia established professorates in Cameralism, an economic and social school of thought within 18th century Prussia to reform society, at the universities of Frankfurt an der Oder and University of Halle. The most well known professor of Cameralism was Johann Heinrich Gottlob Justi.
The first generation
Lorenz von Stein, since 1855 professor in Vienna, is considered the founder of the science of public administration. In the time of Von Stein the science of public administration was considered to be a form of administrative law, but Von Stein thought that opinion was too restrictive.
His opinions were innovative in several respects:
- He considered the science of public administration a melting pot of several disciplines, like sociology, political sciences, administrative law and public finance. In the opinion of Von Stein the science of public administration was an integrating science.
- According to Von Stein the science of public administration was an interaction between theory and practice. He considered the public administration as leading practically, but the theory had to form the base.
- Von Stein thought that the science of public administration should strive to adopt a scientific method.
In the United States Woodrow Wilson was the first to consider the science of public administration. In an 1887 article entitled "The Study of Administration," Wilson wrote "it is the object of administrative study to discover, first, what government can properly and successfully do, and, secondly, how it can do these proper things with the utmost possible efficiency and at the least possible cost either of money or of energy." Wilson was more influential to the science of public administration than Von Stein, primarily due to an article Wilson wrote in 1887 in which he argued in favor of four concepts:
- Separation between politics and public administration.
- Consideration of the government from a commercial perspective.
- Comparative analysis between political and private organizations and political schemes.
- Reaching effective management by training civil servants and assessing their quality.
The separation between politics and the public administration, which Wilson argued, has been the subject of fierce debates for a long time, and the different points of view on this subject differentiate periods in the science of public administration.
The second generation
The discussion about the separation between politics and the public administration as argued by Wilson continued to play an important role up to 1945.
Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick were the founders of the Science of Administration. They integrated the ideas of earlier theorists like Henri Fayol into a comprehensive theory of administration. Gulick and Urwick believed that the thoughts of Fayol offered a systematic treatment of management, which was unique at that time. They believed that this could be applied as well for the management of companies as for administrative sciences. They did not want to separate the two disciplines, but believed a single Science of Administration, which exceeds the borders between the private and the public sector, could exist. Later on the Science of Administration would focus primarily on governmental organizations. The reasoning of the Science of Administration was largely borrowed from the fourteen principles of organization of Fayol.
Gulick and Urwick were the ones who put forth the management process of planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting (POSDCoRB).
The third generation
After 1945, the third generation arose which questioned the ideas of Wilson and the second generation.
Initially the distinction between politics and the public administration was strongly relativized by the third generation, but the discussion would continue. Because of the unsuccessful American intervention in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal politics became discredited and in the eighties there was again a plea in favor of bureaucracy, especially in the United States. The public administration had to detach itself from politics.
After Louis Brownlow from the University of Chicago chaired the Hoover Commission on the Reorganization of Government, he founded Public Administration Service on the University of Chicago campus (at 1313 E. 60th Street). From 193 until the late 1970s PAS provided consulting services to governments at all levels: cities counties, states, the federal government and many foreign countries.
The fourth generation
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the New Public Management model was proposed by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler . This public administration model advocates the use of private sector innovation, resources, and organizational ideas to improve the public sector. This model was advocated by U.S. Vice President Al Gore in the 1990s and adopted by the Clinton Administration. It is now part of the bureaucratic system of government in the United States. Some criticisms of this model is that it emphasizes people as "customers" rather than "citizens" and that customers are placed as an end-product user of government rather than part of the policy making process. This model focuses on a person as a unit of the economy rather than democracy. The model is still widely accepted among all levels of government.
The fifth generation
In the late 1990s and early 21st century, Janet and Robert Denhardt proposed The New Public Service model. This model of public administration focuses on people being treated as "citizens" rather than "customers". The citizen's primary role is to participate in government and be active throughout the process of implementing policy, instead of the end product of said policies. Whilst this remains feasible at the nation-state level to which the concept of 'citizen' is wedded, the emergence of 'transnational administration' with the growing number of international organizations and 'transnational executive networks' complicates the prospects for citizen engagement.
One example of this is OpenForum.com.au, an Australian non-for-profit eDemocracy project which invites politicians, senior public servants, academics, business people and other key stakeholders to engage in high-level policy debate.
Rational choice models of bureaucracy
An influential new stream of rational choice analysis in public administration was inaugurated by William Niskanen, whose 1971 'budget-maximizing' model argued that rational bureaucrats will always and everywhere seek to increase their budgets, thereby contributing strongly to state growth. Niskanen went on to serve on the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors under President Reagan, and his model provides a strong underpinning for the worldwide move towards cutbacks of public spending and the introduction of privatization in the 1980s and 1990s. Niskanen's universalist approach was critiqued by a range of pluralist authors who argued that officials' motivations are more public interest-oriented.
The bureau-shaping model (put forward by Patrick Dunleavy) also argues against Niskanen that rational bureaucrats should only maximize the part of their budget that they spend on their own agency's operations or give to contractors or powerful interest groups (that are able to organize a flowback of benefits to senior officials). For instance, rational officials will get no benefit from paying out larger welfare checks to millions of poor people, since the bureaucrats' own utilities are not improved. Consequently we should expect bureaucracies to significantly maximize budgets in areas like police forces and defense, but not in areas like welfare state spending.
New public management (NPM) and its potential successors
Outside the U.S., critics argue that NPM has failed in the UK and other countries where it has been applied, so that it is now 'dead'. One claimed successor to NPM is digital era governance focusing on themes of reintegrating responsibilities into government, needs-based holism (doing things in joined-up ways) and digitalization (exploiting the transformational capabilities of modern IT and digital storage).
Public administration as an academic discipline
A Public Administrator can fill many voids. The academic field evolved in the United States from both academic political science and law as a separate study in the 1910s. In Europe, notably England and Germany (Max Weber), it started as a separate scholarly field in the 1890s, but it was first taught in Continental universities in the 1720s. The Federalist Papers several times referred to the importance of good administration, and scholars such as John A. Rohr see a long history behind the constitutional legitimacy of government bureaucracy.
There is minor tradition that holds that the more specific term public management refers to ordinary, routine or typical management concerns, but in the context of achieving public good. Others see public management as a new, economically driven perspective on the operation of government. This latter view is often termed "New Public Management" by its advocates and can be seen as a reform attempt aimed at reemphasizing the professional nature of the field versus its academic, moral or disciplinary characteristics. A few public administration theorists advocate a bright line differentiation of the professional field from related academic disciplines like political science and sociology. But, in general, it remains interdisciplinary in nature.
As a field, public administration can be compared to business administration, and the MPA viewed as similar to an MBA for those wishing to pursue governmental or non-profit careers. An MPA often entails substantial ethical and sociological aspects not usually found in business schools. There are derivative and related degrees that address public affairs, public policy, and the like. Differences often connote program emphases on policy analysis techniques or other topical focuses such as the study of international affairs as opposed to focuses on constitutional issues such as separation of powers, administrative law, problems of governance and power, and participatory democracy.
Public administration theory is the domain where discussions of the meaning and purpose of government, bureaucracy, budgets, governance, and public affairs take place in the field. In recent years, public administration theory has occasionally connoted a heavy orientation toward critical theory and postmodern philosophical notions of government, governance, and power, but many public administration scholars support a classic definition of the term which gives weight to constitutionality, service, bureaucratic forms of organization, and hierarchical government.