Summary of Public administration theoretical framework in USA

By Suwida Nuamchroen

To help students or interested people in Public administration to remember the timeline of what happened in the United Stated, the author summery the important issues on Public administration theoretical framework in USA. 

Woodrow Wilson (1887) mentions that in the improvement of public administration one needs to improve not only the personnel but also the object of administrative study: 1) what government can properly and successful do 2) how it can be done in the most possible efficient way. According to Wilson, the science of administration is the latest science which was begun some twenty-two hundred years ago. He continues that it is the field of business and is apart from the ground of constitutional study. The object of administrative method from the confusion and costliness of empirical experiment and set them as steady principle.

Civil-service reform is a moral preparation is the first process to be executed, according to Wilson. Moreover, he encourages separating administration from politics and from laws. Even though, administration lies upon some spheres of politics, administrative questions are not political questions. This is because politics is state activity of large and universal sphere but administration is the activity of the state in individual and small things. Another distinction is the distinction between constitutional and administrative questions. Thus, constitutions regard the instrumentalities of government which are to control general law. By the way, one of the most important suggestions is about the public opinion. Popular sovereignty is harder for democracy to organize administration than for monarchy. In order to make any advance at all we must instruct and persuade a multitudinous monarch called “Public opinion”. Public opinion can affect a change in political situation. Therefore, wherever it exists, it must rule.

In the same way, Frank J. Goodnow (1900) suggests to separate three authorities. All authorities are engaged in the execution of the will of the state. They tend to be differentiated. The first to become differentiated is judicial authority. We also should mark off the activities of the judicial authorities as a separate power or function of government. And other two authorities are Politics and Administration. Politics has to do with policies or expression of the state will. Administration has to do with the execution of these policies. He continues with the definition of the word “Politics” and “Administration” in order to separate the functions of these two features. All in all, “Politics” is the act or vocation of guiding or influencing the policy of a government through the organization of a party among its citizens including the ethnics of the government, the art of influencing public opinion, attracting and marshalling voters, and obtaining and distributing public patronage. While, the word “Administration” is used as indicative of function is apt to promote the idea about executive and administrative authorities, and the discharge of the function of administration. Goodnow emphasizes that there shall be harmony between the expression and execution of the state will. Actual political necessity however requires that there shall be harmony between the expression and execution of the state will.

In 1922, Max Waber’s posthumous well-known work, “Bureaucracy”, was published. His analysis of bureaucracy is the main point of departure for all further analyses on the is the studies of ancient bureaucracy; as well as, the more modern ones appearing in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The main highlights of its characteristics are: firstly, there is the principle of fixed and official jurisdictional areas, which are ordered by rules and regulations. Secondly, the principles of office hierarchy and of level of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of super-ordination and subordination. This means that there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher ones. Thirdly, the management of the modern office is based upon written documents or the files. Fourthly, office management is distinctly modern- usually presuppose thorough and expert training. Fifthly, official activity demands the full-working capacity of the official, when the office is fully developed.

In the Mid-Century period, Luther Gulick (1937) introduces the theory of organization which can be applied to large-scale or complicated enterprise. His main focus is the division of work. The reason why we have to divide workload is due to human nature, time and space. People are different in nature capacity and. They gain greatly dexterity in specification. Additionally, people cannot be at two places in the same time. In terms of time and space, people cannot learn the whole of knowledge and skill because they are so great. Furthermore, he introduces the co-ordination of work. First of all, it can be conducted due to the structure of authority: order of superiors to subordinates. Then, by the dominance of an idea, each worker will fit his task according to his skill and enthusiasm. Finally, Gulick presents the idea of organizing the Executive and POSDCORB become well-known. POSDCORB is made up of the initials and stands for these activities: P-Planning, O-Organizing, S-Staffing, D-Directing, C-Coordinating, R-Reporting and B-Budgeting.

In 1971, the essay on new Public Administration “Toward a New Public Administration” by H. George Frederickson was presented. The essay is to firstly present the interpretation and synthesis of the new Public Administration at The Minnowbrook Conference. Its second purpose is to describe how this interpretation and synthesis of new Public Administration relates to the wider world of administrative thought and practice. And its third focus is to interpret what the new Public Administration means for organization theory. It introduces four processes in organization theory; that is, the distributive process, the integrative process, the boundary-exchange process and the socio-emotional process.

In 1980s, three interesting articles regarding Public Administration were launched: respectively “Street-Level Bureaucracy: The Critical Role of Street-Level Bureaucrats by Michael Lipsky (1980), Democracy and the Public Service: The Collective Services (1982) by Frederick C. Mosher (1982) and Public Administrative Theory and the Separation of Powers (1983) by David H. Rosenbloom. In Lipsky’s work, he mentions Public service workers as street-level bureaucrat. They interact directly with citizens in the course of their jobs and typically are teachers, police officer and other law enforcement personnel, social workers, etc. significantly, they are the focus of political controversy for two reasons. First, debates about the proper scope and focus of governmental services are the debate over the scope and function of the public employee. Second, street-level bureaucrats have considerable impact on people’s lives. The roles of street-level bureaucrats are as extensive as the functions of the government. They represent the government. Therefore, what is expected from the bureaucrats is fair and effective treatment.

Two years later, Frederick C. Mosher published “Democracy and the Public Service: The Collective Services” in 1982. The concerns about unionization and collective bargaining rose. The civil services became so strong entrenched as to inhibit the development of employee unions. Union used to be suppressed by conservative state legislatures and regulations; however, it was gradually developed and seemed growing in parts of the federal establishments. In the following year, David H. Rosenbloom studied the separation of power as well. He presented the central problem of contemporary public administrative theory that derived from three disparate approaches to the basic question of what public administration is. Each of these approaches has a respected intellectual tradition, emphasizes different values, promotes different types of organization structure, and views individuals in markedly distinct terms. These approaches are conveniently labeled “managerial”, “political” and “legal”.

The timeline from 1880 until the end of the twentieth century shows the significant development of Public Administration theories. The model below may help learners and practitioners to remember and understand the Public Administration life in the United States.



Figure 1: the chronology of Public Administration Theorists (Suwida Nuamcharoen, 2013)

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