ABSTRACT This paper is a theoretical and historical view of the field of American public administration. It describes how researchers have evaluated the governmental structures; sought after the implementation of efficient and equitable public policies; and inquired about the most effective political-administrative dichotomy. The study of Public Administration is the search for the best way to run public institutions. As an applied political science, this paper will call into question the promotion of democratic practices and ask: Who in Latin America is studying public administration?
Why does the United Sates have a strong democratic government? Is it that the US has a stronger constitution than Latin American governments? Maybe in the US the political parties are less corrupt? Or does the US government have fewer predispositions about influences citizen lives? Even more frequently cited is America’s strong “democratic culture” vs. the weak ones in Latin America. If one reads the newspapers or follows American politics, there is frequent reference to possible legislators corruption, with campaign finance reform always a hot topics to solve the “party problems.” Additionally, gerrymandering still lives on to this day; with frequent redistricting requests proposed by congress for “preventive measures.” The Supreme Court reviews hundreds of cases each year to investigate for plausible constitutional reform. The Americas Civil Liberties Union, a watchdog to ensure that the government does not invade people privacy, receives handfuls of complaints of possible constitutional violations each year. Equally disturbing, Americans are some of the poorest to participate in the political system, with voter turn out typically below fifty percent. And now social scientists have determined that Americans are “bowling alone.” Without social groups to volunteer with, there are declining levels of social capital. So why does the US government work at all?
Maybe theorists should look at the field of public administration for answers. Too often political scientists analyze constitutional reforms, political parties or state-society relations, civil society, or social capital bonding as rational for why Latin American governments don’t work. But few researchers evaluate the governmental structure; it’s ability to implement efficient and equitable public policies; or it’s effective political-administrative dichotomy. The study of Public Administration is the search for the best way to run public institutions. It is applied political science. Who in Latin America is studying public administration? It can be argued that there has not been a true Wilsonian governmental reform in Latin America. This essay will define the history of US public administration as a subfield of political science, provide its significant heritage, and will argue that Latin America needs a Wilsonian transformation in order to modernize their government structures and systems.
Traditional study of American public administration is consistent with US history. Major tenets within the field follow along with events in American history. Although recently several postmodernist scholars, namely Camilla Stivers, Charles Fox and Hugh Miller, have called into question whose history is correct, suggesting that the relativity of truth is in the eye of the beholder—a topic, which will be treated and applied later in the essay. Frequently referenced in the traditional American literature is the field of American public administration began in the progressive era, a period of reforms in the US lasting from the 1890s through the 1920s, and with former President Woodrow Wilson’s foundational essay.
Wilson wrote “The Study of Administration” in 1887, before he was president, as a response to the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. This federal law established the merit base system for bureaucrats, eliminating nepotisms in public agencies. Wilson’s essay, which was discovered years after it was written, argues for the separation of politics from administration. He argues that public administration should take a business like approach performing its work to be more appropriate, efficient and cost effective. This is the first positivist view of how to analyze public problems. It uses a scientific formula and business, models applying managerial techniques, to organize public structures. In this essay, Wilson is quoted for saying “it is getting harder to run a constitution than to frame one.” Wilson is arguably called the father of American Public Administration.
Approximately when Wilson’s essay was found, several people used it to professionalize the field of public administration. With a strong argument to better manage government, New York’s citizens began a movement to improve local governments to be more responsible to communities. Namely in this group included academics like Larry Gulick, Frank Goodnow and Leonard White. They were unhappy with the way New York City and other New England towns were managing its finances and providing public services. The New York group set up the Bureau of Municipal Research to study how the government was using city resources.
The Bureau Men, as Stivers later coined them, not only created an independent government watchdog, they also envisioned training future bureaucrats to manage city governments, budget and policies. For example the first of such was when the New York Bureau of Municipal Research opened its training school for public service with a small class in 1911. Students, primarily men, had diverse backgrounds in business, government and the social services. The hope was to convert the students into professional bureaucrats with classes in business, finances, organizational design and management. Furthermore, they also engaged philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to start professional schools of PA. With this financing, these entrepreneurs organized the National Institute of Pubic Administration (NIPA) incorporated in April 1921 and soon certified additional training schools of pubic services.
Various schools popped up to advocate for the scientific management of public institutions. For example, the Maxwell School in Syracuse, New York; Harvard’s School of Government in Boston; also programs were later developed at Yale in Connecticut and Columbia in New York City. The University of Chicago set up a school in the 1920s to include both public administration and social work. In the quest for teaching scientific based management and analysis, the school’s founders also had a personal dedication, to the students and professors. The founders vision for a better American society lead their pursuits to build more schools. Their mission was to establish PA schools in order to analyze government’s work and make it work better for the American society as a whole.
While the practical teaching took off, theorists questioned various assumptions of what to teach the students. Of particular importance was the scientific-positivist approach of management described by Fredrick W. Taylor in his essay “Scientific Management.” Taylor felt that the best management is like science in that “it rests upon clearly defined laws, rules and principles.” He suggested methods to make workers more productive and provided a framework for future positivist work. Additionally to this movement, Henry Ford’s model of processing widgets and assembling cars over a conveyer belt was used to describe the quest for efficiency in production.
Adding to the efficiency literature, political scientist Larry Gulick theorized how to provide government services more effectively. His suggested that a strict division of labor and the coordination of workers in an organization could make it more efficient. He suggested chief executives follow his POSDCCORB typology, which stands for Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting, and Budgeting. He taught at Columbia University and was a staff member of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research (later renamed to NIPA).
Political scientist Leonard White furthered Wilson’s discussion of the political and administrative dichotomy, by adding that management should adjust to America’s federalist state and its organizational structure. For example the centralized power—moving from the local, to the state, and the national level of government, should have a powerful executive—or the mayor at the local level, governor at the state, and the president at the national level. He argued that administration is the heart of the modern government, and you must have a strong executive to weave through its politics. For him, politics is inherently managed by the administration and vice versa. White argued that on the political side, it is important to design the best governmental institutions. This further analysis of the politics-administration dichotomy (White 1926) of the US presidents furthered the field. Interestingly White was not only an academic, but also worked as an advisory for the federal government. After working in the (three) administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, White left the federal government to serve as a professor at the University of Chicago.
Another influential professor in the quest for administrative-political dichotomy was Frank J. Goodnow. He also inspired the Bureau’s municipal research agenda. In his essay “Politics and Administration” written in 1900, he attempted to give different roles and purposes to government’s administrative and political sides. Goodnow argued that the administrative side dealt with the implementation and the processes, while the political side focused on creating the institutions that formulate, adopt, and implement policies. But again each side influenced each other, reinforcing the others actions. Goodnow was president of John Hopkins University, advisor to the Roosevelt and Taft administrations and taught at Amherst on both public administration and administrative law.
Around the same time Jane Adams organized the Hull House in Chicago. With the central mission to provide social and educational opportunities for working class people (including many recent immigrants) in the surrounding neighborhoods, several hundred of these homes were established throughout the US in the 1920s. This social service provision was one of the first of its kinds. The houses are remembered as a large asset to in the development of the US, assisting many new immigrants to settle into American communities. Adams, although only recently recognized for her PA work related to public administration, advanced the field of social policy. She used social evaluations of her residents and neighbors to better define the type of care they needed. One tangible outcome of Adams’ PA work was her cohort from the Hull House Julia Lathrop adopted Adams models as the chief of the US Children’s Bureau, a federal agency aiding families and children, in 1912.
The academic discussions between business and politics, efficiency and effectiveness and the importance of politics and management, continues even today. Another major theme in PA history is the study of the organization. Notable work in this area was by Paul Appleby, in his essay “Government Is Different” written in 1945. He suggested that the “public” part of public administration made it different than running a business. For him, this organizational animal was inherently different. Public decision-making processes are more pluralistic and not solely developed on standards of efficiency or profit maximization. Also, the public scrutinizes government outcomes more than business. Appleby describes the public-interest attitude that government official must have, intrinsically makes it less efficient than a private business and should be analyzed as such.
Additionally, Max Weber’s ideal hierarchical typology is used in the field of public administration to define organizational structural roles like leadership, management, and efficiency. For Weber, programs are clearly assigned by function. Organizational unit interact with formal relationships, interaction is typically in writing. There is little chaos or cross-fertilization of ideas in a bureaucracy. Instead an administrator’s work should be smooth and managed in an orderly fashion. Weber defines the hierarchy in “pure types,” which authority is divided into legal, traditional and charismatic. Ideal types and models allow academics a place of comparison, to describe how the real world actually works.
Furthermore, organizational structures are discussed in “ The American System,” written in 1966 by Morton Grodzins, and “Administrative Decentralization and Political Power,” written in 1969 by Herbert Kaufman. These essays argue that government must represent society, as a whole, and in doing so, have organizational issues. Grodzins suggests that functions overlap in government. He describes chaos found in the US government, with its mixture of powers from the various layers of local, state and national governments. Each layer has a separate propose and intent, which makes a “Marble Cake” affect in America—overlapping tensions and roles of government. Whereas the functions may overlap, this chaos defines the American system as a whole. Furthering this discussion, Kaufman calls for more decentralization and direct democracy, where citizen controls of local resources by participating in government agencies. He also advocates for the creation of an “Advisory Commission of Intergovernmental Relations,” which he suggest would assist local actors to navigate though federal agencies and programs in order to provide appropriate services to citizens.
These characteristics of the American system of government not only establishes the field of American public administration, but they also distinguish the US’s form of government from other nations. Each of the above theorists, academics and practitioners alike are concerned with producing better public policies, making government more efficient and creating a better society. In studying government, it furthers academics to push further in understanding why the US works as it does.
In that same vein, Dwight Waldo is best known for his use of political theory and history to define the field of public administration, viewing past US presidents and how they administered the country as examples of PA. Although an advocate of administrative efficiency, Waldo warned the use of too much positivist and scientific approach to understand how government work is insufficient. In his writings of the 1950, he includes the art of maneuvering politics in the PA framework. Waldo’s criticism was instrumental to develop the separate new field of public management, which used more scientific proofs than PA.
Finally the last notable American scholar studying PA is Herbert Simon—the only political scientist ever awarded a Nobel Prize for his intellectual achievements. This professor from the University of Chicago, not only studied government and public administration, but also incorporated behavioral characteristics, problem solving, complex systems and system theory into his analysis of why governments work as they do. And the list continues as American public administrators and theorists originate and create an academic debate on how to make an effective political system.
Additional PA topics not addressed in this essay are many. The work of “public” and ethics movement of government, public policy vs. public management, New Public Management and the efforts of reinventing government are all relevant in today’s society. Also academic have studied decision-making models, organizational culture and management, issues like taking orders, are among many other ideas theorist have used to define how to run the American government. But what is relevant, is that the US has a strong political culture to question authority, separate the political institution and create education institutions for further academic debate, suggest new ways to go about is public business. The development of the US is also associated with the development of its political institutions. The US’s political heritage has evolved over time and will do so in to the future.
Postmodernists argue that it is important to recognize ones “history” and each “history” is told through the eye of the beholder. They question what our common history is and how was it derived. The “relativity” of perspective is important also in the field of PA. It can be argued that Latin America needs to develop its own public administration history in order to create a field for itself. It is not what the American’s have done, but what each country has developed for itself as how to manage its own state of affairs. The foundational wisdom of Woodrow Wilson in creating the first political-administration dichotomy is relevant for Latin America but only insomuch as it can develop its on country-by-country past for analyzing public institutions.
Recently, the International Committee of the US-based National Association of School of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) has decided to help this process along. It is assisting to develop the Inter-American Network of Public Administration Education (INPAE). Created in 2000, this regional network of schools working in public administration and policy analysis in Latin America and the Caribbean has more than 25 members from top research schools in various countries throughout the hemisphere. Its mission is to develop the professional study of public administration and public policy outside of government control or management. Creating this political-administration dichotomy is the first step towards true administrative reform and state modernization efforts. Further creativity by academics, practitioners and researchers will need to use this field to model a better state for each country in Latin America.
Moreover, the Summits of the Americas is just another international agreement and event for presidents to come together and discuss top priorities of the day. Whether the governments are able to interpret the signed agreements and implement them on their own terms will depend on how they manage their own bureaucracies. Americans must realize that each country must administer policies and political commitments on their own time and bureaucracies. Finally, above all else, the study of public administration has long been criticized for its tensions between science and art. The current new focus in the US is on New Public Management, which is just another push for more scientific approach to public policy, or positivism in the social sciences. But politics is an art and it must equally be studied. Therefore maybe the best way to define PA is that it’s a craft. If Latin American can take this craft and adopt it for its own, they will also have strong institutions to manage public issues.
Appleby, Paul (1945). Government Is Different
Goodnow, Frank J. (1900). Politics and Administration
Grodzins, Morton (1966). The American System
Gulick, Luther (1937). Notes on the Theory of Organization
Kaufman, Herbert (1969). Administrative Decentralization and Political Power
Simon, Herbert A. (1946). Proverbs of Administration
Stivers, Camilla (2000). Bureau Men, Settlement Women
Taylor, Fredrick W. (1912) Scientific Management
Weber, Max (1922). Bureaucracy
White, Leonard D (1926). Introduction to the Study of Public Administration
Wilson, Woodrow (1887). The Study of Administration
Waldo, Dwight (1948) The Administrative State: Conclusion