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Public Administration as an Academic Discipline


Early public administration was marked by a concern for applying the principles of business management to a higher level of business public affairs.

In the 1950s it began to borrow heavily from sociology, political science, psychology, and social psychology that led to the formation of organization theory that helps to understand the nature of human organizations.

Then, the 1950s and 1960s witnessed a dramatic upsurge of professional and academic participation in comparative administration studies. Considerable attention was paid to studies of particular areas of the world. There were detailed case-by-case examinations of administrative situations in both the developing countries and the older, established bureaucracies of the industrialized world.

Another situation is the emergence of public policy analysis as a major branch of public administration studies. Writings on decision-making took into account economic, political, psychological, historical, and even nonrational processes.

An interesting development in American public administration in the late 1960s is known as the New Public Administration which was a reaction against the value-free positivism that had characterized much of American public administration thought since World War II. The politics of public administration becomes increasingly interesting. Citizens, students, and scholars all round the world have come to understand the enormous impact of public administration on all of us, which is an important reason for the renaissance of their interest in public administration.





Though there are different approaches to the field of public administration, this interdisciplinary subject nowadays has a quite strong theory that tries to take into account not only management subjects, but also the mix of administration, policy making, and politics.

The basic aspects of organization theory


The terms public and private convey very different connotations to the general public. Public organizations are pictured as wasteful; private organizations are often presented as efficient.


Organization as bureaucracy

Whether in business or government organizations, a dominant form of any administration is bureaucracyBureaucracy has promise but it may also create problems and abuses of power, especially in the absence of effective coordination.

Organization as a dynamic change

Then, both public and private organizations have a dilemma the need for both stability and change.

All organizations resist change as organizational change is often painful and destructive. Despite the need for new ideas, new approaches, and new types of employees, stability need usually dominates in organizations. And the forces of stability are stronger in public organizations.

Organization as human relations

Both organizations, especially public organizations, are crowded with individuals.

Individuals bring to organizations a complex mix of needs (both fundamental needs, as food, shelter, health care, and future security which are bought with money earned through work, and our highest spiritual needs to belong to a social group and to contribute to it, the need of self-actualization, esteem and recognition).

Organizations should also make a system of various rewards that are powerful incentives for above-average performance. Pay, promotions, recognition, and others rewards are distributed by managerial staff.

The social rewards of some jobs are more obvious than others. Jobs with greater variety, responsibility, and challenge are inherently more rewarding while routine can generate lack of interest and boredom, and managers should take it into account.


Organization as a structure of subgroups

Most work in organizations depends on ensemble rather than solo effort, and is a mix of collaboration and interdependence.

There are two basic groups in organizations: formal and informal.

Formal groups (departments, committees) are identified and selected by organizational leaders, and their major characteristics are organizational legitimacy and task orientation.

Informal groups (sport groups, common lunch hours, etc.) are not created by management but evolve out of the rich social environment.

Organization as a cultural product

Organizations have not only tangible dimensions such as an office building, an organizational chart, products and services, specific individuals and groups.

The concept of culture is difficult to define. But when comparing organizations in different countries, their cultural differences are extremely vivid and important.

Organizations are also meaning systems as they provide meaning to our lives. Feelings and emotions as well as purpose are very important to work life of an organization.

Both culture and emotions influence structure, effectiveness, and change in organizations. The symbolic and cultural dimensions of organizations are increasingly viewed as essential to understanding individual organizations and their role in society.


The environment of public administration


When many people think of public administration as an activity, they visualize large offices crammed with rows of faceless bureaucrats sitting at desks and producing an endless stream of paperwork.

Public administration also has many more participants, such as the executive, the legislature, the courts, and organized groups, which are involved in the formulation and implementation of public policy.

Summing up what has been said, it is important to underline that the theory of public administration is very diverse, is rapidly developing and depends much on what we know about why humans behave as they do when they interact with each other.





Large organizations employ many individuals. Charismatic leaders, caring supervisors, innovative program directors, and numerous street-level employees lend individuality to the collective and character to the whole organization.

A role is a predictable set of expectations and behaviors associated with an office or position. A person usually performs several roles and it may become a source of stress and overload. Role overload is more than just too much work, or overwork. The lawyer who must cancel an appointment to care for a sick child or the professor who neglects his students to fulfill administrative obligations is experiencing a role conflict.

Viewing organization as a system of roles helps to identify rights and obligations of each employee. An organization that falls apart when individuals leave has not built an adequate structure of roles.

Although public organizations contain many specific roles, five role-types the political executive, desktop administrator, professional, street-level bureaucrat, and policy entrepreneur are the most common.



Political executives

Political executives (the secretary of a State Department, the city manager, or the county administrator) occupy the top of public organizations.

In most cases, political executives are political appointees elected officials give them their jobs. The official who wins the election most commonly appoints loyal supporters. They are advisors for selected officials.

Elected officials cannot do everything. They can do little more than point the general direction and scrutinize the final result. The ultimate authority, however, rests with the elected official.

Political executives are also top-level administrators. Public executives are legally responsible for implementing policy. Those political executives who fail to reach down and get the support and enthusiasm of their agency personnel will effect little change in policy. If they uncritically adopt the views of their elected officials or their agencies, they may lose influence with elected officials.


Desktop administrators

Desktop administrators are career civil servants down the hierarchy a few steps from political executives. They are middle managers and closely fit the general description of a bureaucrat.

The desktop administrators are torn between the promises and practicality of governing.

Desktop administrators differ fundamentally from political executives in that most of them are career civil servants. After a short probation period, most earn job tenure, and usually are not fired.



Professionals make up the third major role-type in public organizations. The original meaning of the term profession was a ceremonial vow made when joining a religious community.

Modern professionals receive standard specific training that ends with certification.

Increasingly the work of public organizations depends on professionals and more and more professionals are involved in public administration.

An important difference between professional and non-professional work is who evaluates performance. Nonprofessionals are evaluated by their immediate supervisors. Professionals assert their independence from supervisors.

Street-level bureaucrats

Street-level bureaucrats (social workers, police officers, public school teachers, public health nurses, job and drug-counselors, etc.) are at the bottom or near the bottom of public organizations.

Their authority does not come from rank, since they are at the bottom of hierarchy, but from the discretionary nature of their work. They deal with people and people are complex and unpredictable, they are not the same and require individual attention. Street-level administrator must use judgment to apply rules and laws to unique situations, and judgment requires discretion.

Street-level bureaucrats work in situations that defy direct supervision. Even when supervisors are nearby, much work with clients is done privately. Most paperwork and computerized information systems attempt to control street-level bureaucrats.

Street-level bureaucrats are also policy-makers. They often decide what policies to implement, their beliefs can affect their work with clients, they may interpret the policy to benefit clients and vice versa, and thus they may change the policy while implementing it.


Policy entrepreneurs

The policy entrepreneur is generally considered to be the charismatic person at the top, though they can exist at all levels of an organization. They are strongly committed to specific programs and are strong managers. They are skilled in gathering support and guiding an idea into reality. They take risks and push limits, which is necessary for a dynamic government, but they also bend rules and sometimes lead policy astray.


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 2869

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