Public administration: Wikis


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Public administration can be broadly described as the development, implementation and study of branches of government policy. The pursuit of the public good by enhancing civil society, ensuring a well-run, fair, and effective public service are some of the goals of the field.

Public administration is carried out by public servants who work in public departments and agencies, at all levels of government, and perform a wide range of tasks. Public administrators collect and analyze data (statistics), monitor budgets, draft legislation, develop policy, and execute legally mandated government activities. Public administrators serve in many roles: ranging from "front-line" positions serving the public (e.g., peace officers, parole officers, border guards); administrators (e.g., auditors); analysts (e.g., policy analysts); and managers and executives of government branches and agencies.

Public administration is also an academic field. In comparison with related fields such as political science, public administration is relatively new, having emerged in the 19th century. Multidisciplinary in character, it draws on theories and concepts from political science, economics, sociology, administrative law, behavioural science, management and a range of related fields. The goals of the field of public administration are related to the democratic values of improving equality, justice, security, efficiency, effectiveness of public services usually in a non-profit, non-taxable venue; business administration, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with taxable profit. For a field built on concepts (accountability, governance, decentralization, clientele), these concepts are often ill-defined and typologies often ignore certain aspects of these concepts (Dubois & Fattore 2009).[1]

In the United States, the academic field draws heavily on political science and law. Scholars such as John A. Rohr write of a long history behind the constitutional legitimacy of government bureaucracy. In Europe (notably in Britain and Germany), the divergence of the field from other disciplines can be traced to the 1720s continental university curriculum. Formally, official academic distinctions were made in the 1910s and 1890s, respectively.

One minor tradition that the more specific term "public management" refers to ordinary, routine or typical management concerns, in the context of achieving public good. Others argue that public management as a new, economically driven perspective on the operation of government. This latter view is often called "new public management" by its advocates. New Public Management represents a reform attempt, aimed at reemphasizing the professional nature of the field. This will replace the academic, moral or disciplinary emphasis. Some theorists advocate a bright line differentiation of the professional field from related academic disciplines like political science and sociology; it remains interdisciplinary in nature.

As a field, public administration can be compared to business administration, and the master of public administration (MPA) viewed as similar to a master of business administration (MBA) for those wishing to pursue governmental or non-profit careers. An MPA often emphasizes substantially different ethical and sociological criteria that are traditionally secondary to that of profit for business administrators. The MPA is related to similar government studies including public affairs, public policy, and political science. Differences often include 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.

The Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) is an applied-research doctoral degree in the field of public administration, focusing on practice. The DPA requires a dissertation and significant coursework beyond the masters level. Upon successful completion of the doctoral requirements, the title of "Doctor" is awarded and the post-nominals of D.P.A. are often added.

Public administration theory is the domain in which discussions of the meaning and purpose of government, bureaucracy, budgets, governance, and public affairs takes place. In recent years, public administration theory has periodically connoted a heavy orientation toward critical theory and postmodern philosophical notions of government, governance, and power. However, many public administration scholars support a classic definition of the term emphasizing constitutionality, service, bureaucratic forms of organization, and hierarchical government.




Antiquity to the early 19th century

Classic scholars including Plato, Aristotle, Vishnu Gupta (Kautilya) and Machiavelli are the basis of subsequent generations of public administration. Until the birth of a national state, the governors principally emphasized moral and political human nature, as well as the on the organization of the governing bodies. Operations were perceived to be secondary to establishing and clarifying the overall guiding theory of government. In Machiavelli's The Prince, European princes or governors were offered advice for properly administering their governments. This work represents one of the first Western expressions of the methodology of government. As the centuries moved past, scholars and governors persisted in their various endeavors explaining how one governs.

Though progress varied across the globe, 16th century Western Europe primarily ascribed to the "national-state" model of government and its corresponding administrative structures. Predominantly imperial Asia, tribal Africa, and the tribal/colonial Americas were each feeling the extent of Europe's diplomatic strategies whose emphasis was war, profit, and proselytizing. In any event, nation-states required a professional force and structure for carrying out the primary purposes of government: ensuring stability with through law, security with a military, and some measure of equity through taxation.

Consequently, the need for expert civil servants whose ability to read and write formed the basis for developing expertise in such necessary activities as legal records, military prowess, and tax administration, and record keeping. As the European imperialist age progressed and the militarily dominant region extended its hold over other continents and people, the need for increasingly conventional administrative expertise grew.

Eighteenth century noble, King Frederick William I of Prussia, created professorates in Cameralism in an effort to service this need. The universities of Frankfurt an der Oder and University of Hallewere Prussian institutions emphasizing economic and social disciplines, with the goal of societal reform. Johann Heinrich Gottlob Justi was the most well-known professor of Cameralism. Thus, from a Western European perspective, classic, medieval, and enlightened scholars formed the foundation of the discipline that has come to be called public administration.

Mid-1800s - 1930s

Lorenz von Stein, an 1855 German professor from Vienna, is considered the founder of the science of public administration in many parts of the world. In the time of Von Stein, public administration was considered a form of administrative law, but Von Stein believed this concept too restrictive.

Von Stein taught:

  • Public administration relies on many prestablished disciplines such as sociology, political science, administrative law and public finance. Further, public administration is an integrating science.
  • Public administrators need be concerned with both theory and practice. Practical considerations are at the forefront of the field, but theory is the basis of best practices.
  • Public administration is a science because knowledge is generated and evaluated according to the scientific method.

In the United States, Woodrow Wilson is considered the father of public administration. He first formally recognized public administration in an 1887 article entitled "The Study of Administration." The future president wrote that "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."[2] 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 advocated four concepts:

  • Separation of politics and administration
  • Comparative analysis of political and private organizations
  • Improving efficiency with business-like practices and attitudes toward daily operations
  • Improving the effectiveness of public service through management and by training civil servants, merit-based assessment

The separation of politics and administration has been the subject of lasting debate. The different perspectives regarding this dichotomy contribute to differentiating characteristics of the suggested generations of public administration.


The separation of politics and administration advocated by Wilson continues to play a significant role in public administration today. However, the dominance of this dichotomy was challenged by second generation scholars, beginning in the 1940s. Luther Gulick's fact-value dichotomy was a key contender for Wilson's allegedly impractical politics-administration dichotomy. In place of Wilson's first generation split, Gulick advocated a "seamless web of discretion and interaction" (Fry 1989, 80).[3]

Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick are two such second generation scholars. Gulick, Urwick, and the new generation of administrators stood on the shoulders of contemporary behavioral, administrative, and organizational "giants" including Henri Fayol, Fredrick Winslow Taylor, Paul Appleby, Frank Goodnow, and Willam Willoughby. With the help of these specialists and their empirical work on human nature, group behavior, and business organizations, second generation public administration scholars had a necessary advantage over the pre-generation and first generation scholars. That is, the new generation of organizational theories no longer relied upon logical assumptions and generalizations about human nature like classical and enlightened theorists.

Gulick is considered a watershed theorist, a truly unique administrative scholar credited with generating a comprehensive, generic theory of organization. During his seven decade career Gulick differentiated his theories from those of his predecessors by emphasizing the scientific method, efficiency, professionalism, structural reform, and executive control. Gulick summarized the duties of administrators with an acronym; POSDCORB, which stands for planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting. Finally, Fayol offered a systematic, 14-point, treatment of private management. Second generation theorists drew upon private management practices for administrative sciences. A single, generic management theory bleeding the borders between the private and the public sector, was thought to be possible. With the general theory, the administrative theory could be focused on governmental organizations.

Post-World War II - 1970s

The mid-1940s theorists challenged Wilson and Gulick. The politics-administration dichotomy remained the center of criticism in the third generation. In addition to this area of criticism, government itself came under fire as ineffective, inefficient, and largely a wasted effort. The sometimes deceptive, and expensive American intervention in Vietnam along with domestic scandals including Watergate are two examples of self-destructive government behavior during the third generation. There was a call by citizens for efficient administration to replace ineffective, wasteful bureaucracy. Public administration would have to distance itself from politics to answer this call and remain effective.

Elected officials supported such reform. The Hoover Commission, chaired by University of Chicago professor Louis Brownlow, to examine reorganization of government. Dr. Brownlow subsequently founded the public administration service on the university, 1313 E. 60th Street. The organization PAS provided consulting services to governments at all levels of government until the 1970s.


In the late 1980s, yet another generation of public administration theorists began to displace the last. What was called New Public Management was proposed by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler [4] . The new model advocated the use of private sector innovation, resources, and organizational ideas to improve the public sector. During the Clinton Administration (1992-2000), Vice President Al Gore adopted and reformed federal agencies accordingly. New public management there by became prevalent throughout the US bureaucracy.

Some critics argue that the New Public Management concept of Americans as "customers" rather than "citizens" is an unacceptable abuse. That is, customers are a means to an end, profit, rather than part of the policy making process. Citizens are in fact the proprietors of government (the owners), opposed to merely the customers of a business (the patrons). In New Public Management, people are viewed as economic units not democratic participants. Nevertheless, the model is still widely accepted at all levels of government.


In the late 1990s, Janet and Robert Denhardt proposed a new public service model [5]. This model's chief contribution is a focus on Americans as "citizens" rather than "customers". Accordingly, the citizen is expected to participate in government and take an active role throughout the policy process. No longer are the proprietors considered an end to a mean. Whilse this remains feasible at the federal, state & local levels, where the concept of citizenship is commonly wedded, the emergence of 'transnational administration' with the growing number of international organizations and 'transnational executive networks' complicates the prospects for citizen engagement.[6]

One example of this is, 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.

New public management (NPM)

The critics of NPM claim that a successor to NPM is digital era governance, focusing on themes of reintegrating government responsibilities, needs-based holism (executing duties in cursive ways), and digitalization (exploiting the transformational capabilities of modern IT and digital storage).

Core branches of public administration

In academia, the fields of Public Administration, are contrived in five disciplines. These disciplines make up the whole of the academic field of Public Administration.

Ethics in Public Administration serves as a normative approach to decision making.
Policy Analysis serves as an empirical approach to decision making.
Public Budgeting is the activity within a government that seeks to allocate scarce resources among unlimited demands.
Organizational Theory in Public Administration is the study of the structure of governmental entities and the many particulars inculcated in them.
Human Resource Management in Public Administration - Human Resource Management, associated with Public Administration, is considered to be an in-house structure that insures unbiased treatment, ethical standards, and promotes a value-based system. This section covers five main topics of human resources management in public administration. This section also provides an overview of the human resource function, contributors to human resource development and implementation, pertinent human resources legislation, and the human resource legislation:


Basic functions of the HR system: Employee Benefits, Employee health care, Compensation, etc.

Leading Contributors - The contributors are listed as follows: George H. Pendleton, Chester Barnard, Paul C. Light, and Volcker Commission.

Pertinent Legislation - Information on legislation that has progressed the human resource system will be covered; Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act 1883, Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, Hatch Act of 1939, Classification Act of 1949, and Title VII from Civil Rights Act of 1964.

HR Structure

Federal Level
Professional Administrative

Decision-making models and public administration

Given the array of duties public administrators find themselves performing, the professional administrator might refer to a theoretical framework from which he or she might work. Indeed, many public and private administrative scholars have devised and modified decision-making models.

William Niskanen's budget-maximizing

An relatively recent rational choice variation, proposed by William Niskanen in a 1971 article budget-maximizing model, argued that rational bureaucrats will universally seek to increase their budgets, thereby contributing to state growth, measured by expenditure. Niskanen served on President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors; his model underpinned what has been touted as curtailed public spending and increased privatization. However, budgeted expenditures and the growing deficit during the Reagan administration is evidence of a different reality. A range of pluralist authors have critiqued Niskanen's universalist approach. These scholars have argued that officials tend also to be motivated by considerations of the public interest.

Patrick Dunleavy's bureau shaping

The bureau-shaping model, a modification of Niskanen, holds that rational bureaucrats only maximize the part of their budget that they spend on their own agency's operations or give to contractors and interest groups. Groups that are able to organize a "flowback" of benefits to senior officials would, according to this theory, receive increased budgetary attention. For instance, rational officials will get no benefit from paying out larger welfare checks to millions of low-income citizens because this does not serve a bureaucrats' goals. Accordingly, one might should instead expect a jurisdiction to seek budget increases for defense and security purposes in place of domestic social programming. If we refer back to Reagan once again, Dunleavy's bureau shaping model accounts for the alleged decrease in the "size" of government while spending did not, in fact, decrease. Domestic entitlement programming was financially de-emphasized for military research and personnel.

Notable scholars

Notable scholars of public administration have come from a range of fields. In the period before public administration existed as its own independent discipline, scholars contributing to the field came from economics, sociology, management, political science, law, and, other related fields. More recently, scholars from public administration and public policy have contributed important studies and theories.

For a longer list of academics and theorists, see the List of notable public administration scholars article .


  1. ^ Dubois, Hans F. W.; Fattore, Giovanni (2009). International Journal of Public Administration. 32(8). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 704-727. doi:10.1080/01900690902908760. "The field of public administration knows many concepts. By focusing on one such concept, this research shows how definitions can be deceptive..." 
  2. ^ Wilson, Woodrow, "The Study of Administration," Political Science Quarterly 2 (June 1887)
  3. ^ Fry, Brian R. 1989. Mastering Public Administration; from Max Weber to Dwight Waldo. Chatham, New Jersey: Chatham House Publishers, Inc.
  4. ^ Public Administration Review, Vol. 56, No. 3 (May – Jun., 1996), pp. 247–255
  5. ^ Denhardt , Robert B. and Janet Vinzant Denhardt (2000). "The New Public Service: Serving Rather than Steering." Public Administration Review 60(6)
  6. ^ Diane Stone, (2008) 'Global Public Policy, Transnational Policy Communities and their Networks,' Journal of Policy Sciences.

Dubois, H.F.W. & Fattore, G. (2009), 'Definitions and typologies in public administration research: the case of decentralization', International Journal of Public Administration, 32(8): pp. 704-727.

See also

Societies for public administration

International public administration

There are several organizations that are active. The oldest is the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA). Based in Brussels, Belgium, IASIA is an association of organizations and individuals whose activities and interests focus on public administration and management. The activities of its members include education and training of administrators and managers. It is the only worldwide scholarly association in the field of public management. Visit their Web site at

Also the International Committee of the US-based National Association of School of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) has developed a number of relationships around the world. They include sub regional and National forums like CLAD, INPAE and NISPAcee, APSA, ASPA. For general information about these regional networks, visit

The Center for Latin American Administration for Development (CLAD), based in Caracas, Venezuela, this regional network of schools of public administration set up by the governments in Latin America is the oldest in the region. Information about CLAD is accessible at

The Institute is a founding member and played a central role in organizing the Inter-American Network of Public Administration Education (INPAE). Created in 2000, this regional network of schools is unique in that it is the only organization to be composed of institutions from North and Latin America and the Caribbean working in public administration and policy analysis. It has more than 49 members from top research schools in various countries throughout the hemisphere,

NISPAcee is a network of experts, scholars and practitioners who work in the field of public administration in Central and Eastern Europe, including the Russian Federation and the Caucasus and Central Asia. Their English Web site is located at

The US public administration and political science associations like NASPA, APSA and ASPA. These organizations have helped to create the fundamental establishment of modern public administration. For more information visit the Web sites of American Political Science Association,, and the American Society of Public Administration

External links






People's Republic of China







Holland/The Netherlands





United Kingdom

United States

Suggested reading

  • Smith, Kevin B. and Licari, Michael J. Public Administration — Power and Politics in the Fourth Branch of Government, ISBN 1-933220-04-X

Simple English

Public Administration means government management, but today also non-governmental organizations that are not acting out of self-interest can be seen as public administrators..

Other websites


People's Republic of China







United Kingdom

United States

Suggested reading

  • Smith, Kevin B. and Licari, Michael J. Public Administration - Power and Politics in the Fourth Branch of Government, ISBN 1-933220-04-X


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