Chapter one: defining public administration learning objectives

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After reading Chapter 1 in the textbook, the student should be able to:
1. Define public administration within the context of its four frames:

a. Political

b. Legal

c. Managerial

d. Occupational
2. Locate public administration within its interdisciplinary context.
3. Define the subject matter that forms the core of public administration.
4. Provide a brief background of the study of administration and its key early players.
5. Explain the real meaning of the politics-administration dichotomy.
6. Understand the cycles of reform in public administration.
7. Define key terms at the bottom of the pages and at the end of the chapter.
8. Write short critical essays on major issues covered in the chapter.


I. Defining Public Administration: The term “public administration” encompasses a complex set of interrelated concepts, thus a simple definition will not suffice. It draws from many different academic disciplines, includes a variety of agencies, and is linked closely to several distinct professions. The text has accordingly provided 18 definitions to capture the intrinsic richness and subtlety of the broad phrase “public administration.” These are clustered into four main categories: 1) political, 2) legal, 3) managerial, and 4) occupational.

II. Analyzing the Definitions of Public Administration: Political—Public administration is what government does. It exists within a political environment, and it is this political context that makes it “public.” Public administration is about implementation of the public interest. It is also about doing collectively what cannot be done as well individually. Legal—The foundations of public administration in the United States are legal ones and are bound by instruments of law. Public administration is law in action in the form of statutes, regulations, ordinances, codes, etc. Managerial—The executive nature of public administration enables the public will to be translated into action by the people responsible for running the public bureaucracy. Occupational—Public administration includes many occupational fields—medicine, engineering, social welfare, economics, etc. It is within the framework of each of these fields that the political, legal, and managerial aspects of public administration are transformed by public administrators into the work of government.
III. Public Administration is an Academic Field: Public administration within an academic interdisciplinary context draws primarily from political science, law, and management. It also incorporates other fields in the social, behavioral, and natural sciences, including economics, sociology, anthropology, criminology, psychology, engineering, medicine, and social work. At the heart of public administration lies its core content: administrative theory, bureaucratic behavior, public finance and budgeting, policy analysis, program evaluation, and administrative ethics. Public administration is also a cross-governmental field: it deals with what the federal, state, and local governments do, such as the federal government providing national defense and local governments maintaining city and county roads.
IV. Public Administration is Both an Old and a Young Discipline: The practice of public administration has been with us from the earliest civilizations. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese, Greeks, and Romans provided guidance on the art and science of management. Our focus in this textbook, however, is on the occupational specialty and academic discipline of American public administration in recent times. As a scholarly discipline, public administration is relatively young. We chart its beginning with the seminal article “The Study of Administration” by Woodrow Wilson in 1887. His famous politics-administration dichotomy which lay at the core of this study was misunderstood. It was taken to mean that politics and administration should be separate. However, in reality, Wilson meant “partisan” politics must be kept separate from public administration. This is not easy, for public administration is closely tied to its political environment.
V. Public Administration and the Cycles of Reform: Public administration is continuously reforming itself depending on the prevailing political climate and theories within the academic disciplines that bear upon it. Some presidents have seen government as the problem in society and not as the solution to public problems. In the 1990s, and specifically linked under the Clinton administration, reform of government has come to be known as the “reinventing government” movement. In recent times the public and the media have become increasingly focused on a broad form of governmental reform—the issue of ethics in government. Its proponents believe this will go far in helping to restore the diminished public faith in public administration.

Class Exercise
Team A: Bureaucrats and Citizens (Con: Keep status quo)

Team B: Bureaucrats and Big Business (Pro: Make change)

Issue: Privatization of the Department of Public Services of the city of White Bluff, Oregon. Organizational chart for areas of service attached.
Moderators: 2
Moderators: Toss coin to see which team begins. Each team presents for 5–8 minutes. Another 5 minutes for rebuttals of additional arguments. Keep order. Keep proceedings civil.

Teams: Choose a recorder to keep notes of your meeting and a spokesperson to present the arguments. Everyone else on the team, be alert to assist the spokesperson as needed. Use the board as needed.
Important concepts from Shafritz and Russell, Public Administration.

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