Public Administration

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Public Administration

Public administration is the implementation of government policy and also an academic discipline that studies this implementation and prepares civil servants for working in the public service.[1] As a "field of inquiry with a diverse scope" its "fundamental goal... is to advance management and policies so that government can function."[2] Some of the various definitions which have been offered for the term are: "the management of public programs";[3] the "translation of politics into the reality that citizens see every day";[4] and "the study of government decision making, the analysis of the policies themselves, the various inputs that have produced them, and the inputs necessary to produce alternative policies."[5]

Public administration is "centrally concerned with the organization of government policies and programmes as well as the behavior of officials (usually non-elected) formally responsible for their conduct".[6] Many unelected public servants can be considered to be public administrators, including heads of city, county, regional, state and federal departments such as municipal budget directors, human resources (H.R.) administrators, city managers, census managers, state mental health directors, and cabinet secretaries.[4] Public administrators are public servants working in public departments and agencies, at all levels of government.

In the US, civil servants and academics such as Woodrow Wilson promoted American civil service reform in the 1880s, moving public administration into academia.[7] However, "until the mid-20th century and the dissemination of the German sociologist Max Weber's theory of bureaucracy" there was not "much interest in a theory of public administration."[8] The field is multidisciplinary in character; one of the various proposals for public administration's sub-fields sets out six pillars, including human resources, organizational theory, policy analysis and statistics, budgeting, and ethics.[9]


In 1947 Paul H. Appleby defined public administration as "public leadership of public affairs directly responsible for executive action". In a democracy, it has to do with such leadership and executive action in terms that respect and contribute to the dignity, the worth, and the potentials of the citizen.[11] One year later, Gordon Clapp, then Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority defined public administration "as a public instrument whereby democratic society may be more completely realized." This implies that it must "relate itself to concepts of justice, liberty, and fuller economic opportunity for human beings" and is thus "concerned with "people, with ideas, and with things."[12] According to James D. Carroll & Alfred M. Zuck, the publication by "Woodrow Wilson of his essay, "The Study of Administration" in 1887 is generally regarded as the beginning of public administration as a specific field of study".[13]

Drawing on the democracy theme and discarding the link to the executive branch, Patricia M. Shields asserts that public administration "deals with the stewardship and implementation of the products of a living democracy."[14] The key term "product" refers to "those items that are constructed or produced" such as prisons, roads, laws, schools, and security. "As implementors, public managers engage these products." They participate in the doing and making of the "living" democracy. A living democracy is "an environment that is changing, organic", imperfect, inconsistent and teaming with values. "Stewardship is emphasized because public administration is concerned "with accountability and effective use of scarce resources and ultimately making the connection between the doing, the making and democratic values."[15]

More recently scholars claim that "public administration has no generally accepted definition", because the "scope of the subject is so great and so debatable that it is easier to explain than define".[16] Public administration is a field of study (i.e., a discipline) and an occupation. There is much disagreement about whether the study of public administration can properly be called a discipline, largely because of the debate over whether public administration is a subfield of political science or a subfield of administrative science", the latter an outgrowth of its roots in policy analysis and evaluation research.[16][17] Scholar Donald Kettl is among those who view public administration "as a subfield within political science".[18] According to Lalor a society with a public authority that provides at least one public good can be said to have a public administration whereas the absence of either (or a fortiori both) a public authority or the provision of at least one public good implies the absence of a public administration. He argues that public administration is the public provision of public goods in which the demand function is satisfied more or less effectively by politics, whose primary tool is rhetoric, providing for public goods, and the supply function is satisfied more or less efficiently by public management, whose primary tools are speech acts, producing public goods. The moral purpose of public administration, implicit in its acceptance of its role, is the maximisation of the opportunities of the public to satisfy its wants.[19]

The North American Industry Classification System definition of the Public Administration (NAICS 91) sector states that public administration "... comprises establishments primarily engaged in activities of a governmental nature, that is, the enactment and judicial interpretation of laws and their pursuant regulations, and the administration of programs based on them". This includes "Legislative activities, taxation, national defense, public order and safety, immigration services, foreign affairs and international assistance, and the administration of government programs are activities that are purely governmental in nature".[20]

From the academic perspective, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the United States defines the study of public administration as "A program that prepares individuals to serve as managers in the executive arm of local, state, and federal government and that focuses on the systematic study of executive organization and management. Includes instruction in the roles, development, and principles of public administration; the management of public policy; executive-legislative relations; public budgetary processes and financial management; administrative law; public personnel management; professional ethics; and research methods."[21]

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