Public administration is a field of study that explores how government policy is carried out and how government works. The nature and scope of public administration have been the subject of debate for decades among scholars. During the Progressive Era in the United States, when the government responsibilities grew, it emerged in the late 19th century. Published in 1887, this essay by Woodrow Wilson formed the foundation of public administration as a separate area of study. There has also been a change in the role of government in society since then as well. Woodrow Wilson paved the way for numerous models of public administration that have been proposed by scholars over the year. Such perceptions influence the extent to which public administration is considered and its content. The two perspectives of public administration – integrative and managerial will be scrutinized in this content. The paper will then explain two schools of thought on the scope of public administration – POSDCORB and the subject matter view. Lastly, it will talk about what these debates are saying at present and provide conclusions on the field today.
Nature of Public Administration
Public administration is the process of enforcing government policy, and a field of study is concerned with this process of enforcement as it prepares civil servants for government services. There are two main views regarding the nature of public administration:
The integral perspective recognises public administration as the totality of all actions aimed at the realization and implementation of public policy. Accordingly, this vision states that public administration is bigger than any branch or department in the government including the legislatures, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, and the local authorities. In this opinion, public administration does not only involve what civil servants and bureaucrats do, as these are only three arms of the government.
The managerial view of public administration is that it is the aspect of government which is exclusively related to the executive branch of government. This view describes public administration as the practice of government policies in departments such as the civil servants, their activities rules, procedures, and also others. This implies that we equate public administration with bureaucracy or civil service. The managerial perspective emphasises more on management and ignores the policy-making part of administration.
An integral view of public administration is one that perceives it as the sum total of all the activities undertaken in the pursuit and fulfilment of the public interest as a whole. It refers to the entire machinery and activities of the government. It takes into account every aspect of government like structures, roles, functions, responsibilities, regulations, processes, etc. Some key contributors to the integral view are:
- L.D. White- Regarded public administration as a broad umbrella encompassing all administrative tasks like policy making, policy implementation, adjudication, etc.
- Nicholas Henry – Saw public administration as diverse, pluralistic, and comprising wide-ranging activities involved in governing a political unit.
- F.A. Nigro – Defined public administration as the coordination of all organized activities having the purpose of implementing government policies.
Some criticisms of the integral view are:
- It is too broad and all-encompassing without a defined structure or focus.
- The field becomes conceptually unwieldy.
- It becomes difficult to establish public administration as an academic discipline with this expansive view.
- There is overlap and lack of differentiation with other disciplines like political science, economics, etc.
- The identity of public administration gets diluted.
- This view hinders the theoretical development of PA as it focuses on just the practical administration activities of the government.
The managerial view of public administration focuses on managing government organizations efficiently and effectively to deliver public services. Some key aspects of this view include:
Core Ideas of Managerial View
- Public administration is the implementation side of government policy and programs. It involves management techniques to achieve efficiency, economy, and improved performance.
- The role of administrators is to carry out policies decided by political leaders. Their function is managerial, not policy-making.
- Effective public administration depends on applying business management principles in government such as hierarchical structure, division of work, unity of command, etc.
- Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick were major proponents of the managerial view. They emphasized scientific management principles for government departments.
- Frederick Taylor, Henri Fayol, and other classical management theorists influenced this view with their focus on efficiency, standardisation, and hierarchical control.
Criticisms of Managerial View
- Critics argue that government cannot be equated to a business and requires balancing diverse public interests. Strict hierarchy and control procedures may hamper flexibility.
- Managerial techniques over-emphasis ignore the political nature of public administration.
- It emphasises internal management processes rather than external benefits for the citizens. Fails to deal with sophisticated public policy problems.
The two views of the nature of public administration—the integral and the managerial—focus differently. The integral view looks at the public administration in its totality, considers it interdisciplinary, and strives to improve the human condition. The managerial view takes a more specific approach to methods, techniques, and skills in managing the affairs of government effectively. The two views overlap to some extent. These two have in common an understanding that the essence of public administration is about policy implementation and government management. Nonetheless, the integral view highlights the interrelated character of public administration and other social sciences such as economics, law, and political science. The managerial view focuses on the how-to and the processes of policy administration.
For different reasons, it is essential to comprehend the essence and extent of public governance. It explains clearly the main objectives and core activities of public administration. What nature says determines what will be the values and objectives of civil servants’ work and of public organisations. Two, defining the scope limits the functions and services falling within the purview of public affairs. This clearly outlines the role of management between public administration, business administration, and public policy. Thirdly, public administrators evaluate different ideas on what defines the nature and scope of government, the relationship between government and society as well as how to reconcile multiple interests among stakeholders. Such reflection helps improve how public services are provided. Lastly, people in a democracy should be aware of what public administration does and the way public administration operates. A clear definition of the nature and scale of public administration is necessary for proper transparency and accountability.
In summary, continuous academic and practical discussions concerning the essence and the boundaries of public administration should be maintained. They mold the image that the profession has of itself as well as what its obligations are to the citizenry. Although opinions vary, hitting the middle point is crucial for a successful and moral public administration.