This article considers organizational aspects of public administration from its origins in the United Kingdom and United States of America prior to the 1850s, for the period from the 1970s to the present. It also considers the future of public administration.
- Premodern Public Administration (Pre-1850s)
- Modern Public Administration (1850s–1970s)
- Postmodern Public Administration (1979–Present)
- Virtual and Supranational Public Administration
Public administration is the term traditionally used to define the formal arrangements under which public organizations serve a government, ostensibly in the public interest. The development of the public administration model dating from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s was influenced primarily by Weber’s theory of bureaucracy, Northcote and Trevelyan’s recommendations relating to the establishment of a professional civil service in Britain, and Woodrow Wilson’s ideas in the United States for the separation of policy from administration (Hughes, 1994). Other managerial theories and concepts over the years have been relevant including Taylor’s scientific management and Simon’s rational decision-making. Since the 1980s, the traditional model of public administration has been largely rejected by governments in favor of a more focused managerialist model based on private-sector practice, within the context of a market-based economic model of public organization. In more recent years, there have been attempts to balance the economic focus with a renewed emphasis on public organization creating public value. This contribution will first examine the traditional model of public administration including the conceptual and theoretical bases and how this affected organizational aspects. Second, it will explore how and why there has been a paradigm shift from public administration to public management. Third, it will consider future trends.
Public administration is the term used to define the formal procedural and organizational arrangements under which public employees serve a government, by implementing and advising on policy, and managing resources. Organizational aspects refer to both the overall structures as well as the relationships that occur within public administrations. This could include: The organizations that make up a civil service, sometimes referred to as the machinery of government; internal organizational arrangements; and/or organizational behavior. Thus, organizational aspects can be studied in a broad sense or within several defined fields. This contribution covers organizational aspects, widely interpreted.
Beyond public administration as a discrete body of knowledge, organizational aspects can be examined through other theories and practices relating to, for example, political science, public policy, sociology, economics, and management. In this sense, each area of study has its own theories and concepts. Furthermore, each state has its own history, organizational form, and approach, although there are many universal, common elements, which have developed through the international transfer of ideas. New governments, formal review processes, focused research, and events have often stimulated notable change. Therefore, the area of public administration is a difficult area to research, and over the years studies have been largely descriptive rather than empirical.
For the purpose of this article, organizational aspects of public administration are examined as four phases of development and evolution, representing important paradigm shifts or prospective shifts. These are the premodern, modern, postmodern, and virtual/supranational phases. Critical issues relating to the theories, models, trends, and practices of organizational aspects of public administration during these times are explored.
Premodern Public Administration (Pre-1850s)
The organizational aspects of public administration have been apparent from ancient times, through many civilizations, such as Greek, Roman, and Chinese dynasties, and have often been the subject of criticism and analysis. Indeed, the ancient Greek satirist and playwright Aristophanes was probably one of the earliest in the literate world to highlight the lack of accountability and fairness in relation to public office. The works of ancient philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, address pertinent issues of interest in this regard.
Military histories over many years from the ancient Greeks and Romans to Machiavelli, to Frederick the Great, and to Napoleon provide further insights into the evolution of organizational aspects of public administration. For example, in the 1700s, in the context of militarism and empire building, the Prussian leader, Frederick the and his successor, Frederic William III, structured an exemplary public administration. Furthermore, France’s public administration, which had been evolving for decades through constitutional reform following the French Revolution of 1789, was organized on the basis of similarly functioning districts, or départements. In the late-1700s to early 1800s, Napoleon oversaw the central appointment of officials charged with the administrative responsibility for the départements. He also developed bodies, which undertook administrative review, and involved the separation of juridical and public administrative powers. The civil service was made up of a number of distinct corps, or bodies, supported by training schools.
In the context of royalty, an early patronage system of public administration developed in England, primarily, as a support function for the royal Anglo-Saxon courts. The later structuring of a distinct, centralized public administration was related to a concept of a parliamentary cabinet. Some senior government ministers had portfolio responsibilities and a small supporting staff. Separate departments eventually existed to provide administrative functions to the ministers in charge of the Treasury, the Exchequer, the Chancellery, and the State. Accountabilities of the ministers were divided, between the Parliament and the monarch. While ministers undertook many of the administrative duties because of a general lack of suitably qualified men [sic], a small, elite corps of public administrators was established with a resultant continuity of tenure from government to government. To a small extent, these public administrations served a legitimate purpose, but for the most part they existed to meet the needs and ends of the administrators themselves.
Some of the public administration ideas from Europe were also adopted in New World states. In the United States, in the context of a revolutionary federal constitution, which came after the War of Independence, their early patronage system was based on political connections, rather than royalty or class. Not surprisingly, these arrangements meant that the administrative organizations of government became highly corrupted, as Woodrow Wilson observed (1887). The dissatisfaction with this type of system and a promoted interest in reform processes led to the eventual development of professional public administrations in many states.
Modern Public Administration (1850s–1970s)
Organizational aspects of public administration continued to evolve because of constitutional and parliamentary reform processes and, in some cases, shifts from royal courts to representative governments. The industrial revolution, the rise of capitalism, and the new bourgeoisie all contributed to pressures for professional civil services. Thus, in modern times, organizational aspects of public administration were based largely on the need for professionalism and often developed, further, because of administrative review.
In Britain, for example, the Northcote–Trevelyan Report (1853) recommended major changes in civil service recruitment and other processes. Fundamental to the changes was the establishment of a central Board of Public Administration, which eventually became a Civil Service Commission in 1870. The Board was responsible for the competitive recruitment, based on merit, of professional civil servants, and their appointment to departments; it was largely independent of government. From an organizational aspect, the idea of a central and independent agency of government responsible for recruitment and other personnel matters was instituted from that time. The best educated men [sic] with knowledge of history, classics, language, and mathematics were appointed to the service. Three classes of civil servant also applied: the elite administrative classes; clerical support classes; and the technical or professional classes.
In the United States, European and British theories and practices continued to influence reform of public administration, especially through the Civil Service (Pendleton) Act of 1883. However, there was a determination, as Woodrow Wilson (1887) notes, to ‘Americanize’ the system. The state was regarded as an instrument of social cooperation, and a more bureaucratic public administration structure was needed to manage the state. There was, however, always a fundamental rejection that the senior administration could perform in a nonpartisan way. This meant that there were dual streams of career civil servants and political appointees at the high levels of the civil service. Therefore, it was recognized that there was a blurred delineation between the political and public administration environments. High-level entry requirements were embedded into the career civil service, and a political education was favored as the main qualification. Taylor’s (1912) theory of scientific management and related developments in the field were promoted as appropriate models of organization and work distribution.
Another major contributor to the evolution of ideas about public administration and organizational aspects was the German economist and sociologist, Max Weber. Weberian principles of bureaucracy have had a universal impact on the organizational aspects of public administration. These principles included the matching of fixed job responsibilities to defined, permanent positions; a hierarchy of official authority; the requirement for appointed, suitably qualified, and anonymous staff with continuity of tenure until retirement; recognition that high-level appointments bring social status; and entitlement for a salary and a retirement pension (Weber, 1946).
As an example of Weber’s force, his ideas were evident as far away as Japan. Public administration and organizational aspects were based largely on German bureaucracy and Weberian principles, with other local attributes. This included the preferential acceptance of law graduates into the administrative elite stream, which has meant that the critical decision processes have been rule- and precedent bound. However, the developmental role of the state led to the dominance of certain elite governmental organizations, such as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.
Furthermore, major events and trends, such as world wars and the growth of global trade, have impacted upon organizational aspects of modern public administration. Consequently, public sectors have increased in certain periods to address major reconstruction initiatives. Cycles of nationalization of certain industries have also impacted upon organizational aspects. Political history is important, too, and organizational change at a microlevel will usually occur when new governments are elected. Thus, there is a strong link between significant history and highly-dynamic organizational aspects of public administration.
Public administration has evolved as a distinct area of research and study in modern times. This is supported organizationally where, in concept, there is meant to be a clear separation of powers and responsibilities between political executives (governments); public administrations (civil or public services); and the juridical arena (the law and courts). There are obvious accountabilities between governments and public organizations, as well, given that there is usually a correlation between the portfolio responsibilities of members of the government and the way public administrative arrangements are determined. For example, members of a government are allocated portfolio responsibilities pertinent to particular public policy fields, such as health, defense, or education. Typically, there is a defined public administration department dedicated to the implementation of government policy and/or service provision in the corresponding policy field.
Moreover, within public administrations, organization can take a number of forms. While categorization may vary from government to government, in general terms, five types of organization may be apparent. First, there are central agencies dedicated to coordinating and supporting government effort, responsible for areas such as financial and human resource management and management improvement. Second, there are departments charged with the responsibility for direct service provision to the public, across a broad range of policy fields. Third, there are government business enterprises (GBEs), which operate at a distance from government, in a more business-like way, usually providing some essential or commercial service. Fourth, there are the review and regulatory agencies, such as auditors-general, ombudsmen [sic], and anticorruption and whistle-blowing protection agencies. Fifth, there are the more peripheral boards and agencies, often semiautonomous entities that conduct other, sometimes more obscure, aspects of government business.
In general, these organizational aspects still apply, but the public administration bureaucratic paradigm, which endured for over 100 years were to a significant extent rejected by governments in postmodern times. By the 1960s, especially in Anglo-American polities, it was apparent that the modern paradigm of public administration, as it had evolved, was no longer serving governments, as intended. Public administrations were seen by critics and reviewers to be too big, too inefficient, and too powerful in comparison to governments. These criticisms were also linked to the perceived failure of Keynesian economic principles, which had underpinned governments’ strategic policy decisions since the 1930s.
Postmodern Public Administration (1979–Present)
It took until the late-1970s and early 1980s for fundamental changes to be implemented in a major paradigm shift toward a market-based model of public administration. Conservative political leaders Prime Minister Thatcher in Britain and President Reagan in the United States were the first politicians demonstrably to sustain such an approach, which led to early adoption in other Anglo-Saxon polities, and later around the globe. Similar earlier attempted changes had been evident in Latin America, where free-market concepts of the Chicago School were influential for a relatively short time. The market-based model, in varying forms, has been adopted in over 100 countries, worldwide, with some convergence of ideological thought between traditionally conflicting political parties. The market-based model supplanted communism in Eastern Europe in the late-1980s as a guiding ideology and led to revolutionary change in organizational form in other largely totalitarian states, such as the Peoples Republic of China.
Supranational governance structures, involving organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Group of 7–8 (or more) leading trading nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the European Union (EU), have all supported and promoted the market-based model. This may account for the active transfer and adoption processes in place from polity to polity. The EU, as the most comprehensive organizational form for supranational governance, operates with its own parliament and public administration system.
Several common themes based partly on public choice, and other less well-defined neoclassical economic theories of rational choice are characteristic of the market-based model. They all have implications for public administration and organizational aspects. First, for example, there is a move away from a mixed economy to a firm belief in markets as the primary and more efficient economic mechanism. To this end, deregulation relating to trade, finance, and monetary policies has taken place.
Second, if markets are to prevail, then the size of governments and their public sectors needs to be reduced. Included in the radical downsizing of public sectors is commercialization, and/or the privatization of GBEs where it is deemed inappropriate for governments to continue to operate in these areas. Major utilities and commercial businesses traditionally involving governments, in areas of activity such as telecommunications, power generation, distribution and transmission, water, banking, insurance, postal services, and airlines have been targeted.
Third, and most importantly, for the public sector, the strategic focus is on organizational efficiency, the creation of internal market-style competitive conditions, and the more purposive application of private-sector business techniques to public management. These changes have involved a shift from a focus on processes of administration and policy, however flawed, to organizational management. A business, or corporation, metaphor may be used to define organizational form. This change has been given various names in different polities; the most commonly adopted phrase is the New Public Management.
As a subset of public choice theory, principal–agent theory focuses on the relationships between governments and their top bureaucrats. In this interpretation, public bureaucrats are perceived to be budget-maximizing, self-interested agents, not trusted by governments. Therefore, governments need to develop executive structures where principal–agent theory can be applied directly so that governments can compel their administrative elite to act in the government’s interests. The establishment of formal senior executive services, with formal performance agreements attached to incentives and fixed-term contracts may result.
Organizationally, the acceptance of the market-based model by governments has seen other major changes. These include, first, substantial machinery of government changes including the separation of policy, regulatory, commercial, and operational services and programs into discrete organizations. Second, the purchaser/provider split, where governments are the contract managers and service provision is contracted out. Third, more openly political appointments at the top of the public service are apparent in previously nonpartisan services. Frequently, this has involved the centralization of power away from independent personnel bodies, which have been abolished. These senior executive managers are expected to support, publicly, governments’ electability. In such circumstances, the possibility of ministers accepting responsibility for departmental managerial failure, within the construct of ministerial responsibility, considerably diminishes.
The rational choice logic, which underpins the market-based model, is open to question, given the presupposition of perfect markets and exchange processes. Such a conceptual framework is unrealistic for the political environment of public administration. Rewards for certain actions and behaviors of agents, required by the principals, can be achieved through both formal and informal power structures. This is an important organizational aspect of the market-based model, where parallel systems of exchange, reward, and relationships operate as a matter of course. While the formal systems may promote a constancy of action and process, the informal system can support implicitly institutionalized power–political relationships.
Whether the paradigm shift has resulted in better public administration and organizational aspects is still to be determined as the key economic indicators of performance, predicated within this new paradigm, suggest a mixed result. There has certainly been a shift from idiosyncratic or confined interpretations of public administration, relevant to particular nations, regions, or systems, to a more universal construct. Nevertheless, there are many variations on the market-based theme depending on governments in power and individual leaderships at any given time.
From an organizational aspect, one of the weaknesses of the market-based model is that it focuses strongly on economic issues and individualism, rather than on the collective responsibility of the state to its citizens. In this sense, social and related policy fields may be diminished in their importance. Some governments have attempted to redress this imbalance with more attention to social, environmental, and other imperatives, relating to the development of human and social capital. United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997–2007) coined the concept of New Labour, which was inspired by the advice and work of Anthony Giddens. The idea of New Labour was an attempt to balance market considerations with greater social concerns. To this end, in many polities there has been a shift toward an underpinning belief that governments and their public organizations are elected to create public value. Policies should, therefore, create a better balance between economic and social outcomes. Additionally, the continuing growth of supranational structures in terms of greater organizational form, and advances in information technology, now provide different challenges for governments.
Virtual and Supranational Public Administration
These two developing areas of interest will undoubtedly continue to have major organizational impacts on public administration. With continuing extraordinary developments in information technology, governments are adding more virtual organizational forms to public administrations. For example, especially with customer service initiatives, knowledge management becomes increasingly important. Free information lines, supported by computer technology, provide coordinated details of government services. Similarly, virtual locations allow citizens to complete a range of government requirements, such as license renewals and the payment of bills. Many processes that involved members of communities attending government organizations in person now can be achieved more efficiently online. Comprehensive information can be obtained from government Internet Web sites, and civil servants can be contacted, more informally and directly, by e-mail. Many governments are now making extensive use of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to inform and communicate with constituents. E-commerce, relating to procurement, contracting, and the lodging of documents may now also apply. Within governments, more virtual communication also takes place involving typed, aural, and visual media. Undoubtedly, this will continue to impact upon organizational aspects of public administration in the future, with a likely increase in virtual government. Organizational aspects of public administration will continue to expand through Web sites.
Second, the continuing development of supranational governance structures, in the context of globalization, has led to both cogent and conspiratorial debate in recent years about future organizational aspects of public administration. The Parliament of the EU as a structure challenging the individual sovereignty of national member governments is an example of how future organizational aspects may evolve as other trading coalitions consolidate their form. Governments in rapidly developing economies, such as the People’s Republic of China, continue to make many changes to the organizational aspects of public administration as the shift toward a market economy continues to evolve. Responses to globalization, especially negative ones, however, prompt support for localism, which emphasizes the role of individual communities. The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 also has shown the vulnerability of the economically globalized world and how governments need to address crises through urgent administrative restructuring at such times.
With all these complex local and global pressures, it is likely that organizational aspects of public administration will continue to experience quite dramatic change over the decades of the twenty-first century. Whether the more traditional structures of agencies, departments, trading enterprises, and review bodies, with the complex relationships between key actors, will remain as the primary organizational aspects is difficult to predict. Even if they do remain, the more virtual aspects of public administration are expected to endure and grow to the point where there will be far more virtual public administration than there is in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
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