Public Administration

Public Administration

The process of public administration consists of the actions involved in effecting the intent or desire of a government. It is thus the continuously active, “business” part of government, concerned with carrying out the law, as made by legislative bodies (or other authoritative agents) and interpreted by courts, through the processes of organization and management.

The field of study—putatively a science or discipline—of Public Administration focuses upon public administration as a process. (In this article, public administration is used to refer to the relevant governmental phenomena; Public Administration, to refer to the study of these phenomena.) Historically and conventionally, Public Administration has been primarily concerned with problems of how to apply or effect law faithfully, honestly, economically, and efficiently. More recently, Public Administration has become concerned with the processes by which public administration participates in creating and interpreting law—with how such creating and interpreting can be done “correctly,” “wisely,” or in the “public interest.”

As a process, public administration is as old as government. That is, as soon as there is sufficient institutional evolution and differentiation to enable one to speak of the government of a society, there are actions by which law (as an expression of government’s authoritative allocation of values) is made and actions by which an attempt, more or less successful, is made to carry the law into effect. In simple societies the objectives of public administration are simple, limited to such matters as preserving order; and the institutions or organs by which administration is carried on are simple, comparatively small, and often not completely differentiated from institutions or organs with other purposes. As societies increase in size and complexity, as governments grow larger and take on more functions, and as their institutions become more differentiated and specialized, administrative processes become more specialized and the institutions that carry on administration activities—known by such names as councils, commissions, departments, bureaus, and agencies—become large, complex, and highly differentiated.

As public administration becomes more specialized and complex, increasing attention is likely to be given to the training of persons who are to perform administrative functions, training which may be given either before or after entry into service. As the processes of administration become more complex, considerable attention also may be given to means of improvement of some part or process. Systematic education or training for performance in public administration, however, is for the most part a development of the modern era. And systematic, continuous study of ways to improve public administration and make it more efficient is an even more recent development, associated with various modern developments such as the rise of the nation-state as the dominant governmental form and the rise of science as an acceptable or characteristic way of thought. In the United States during the past generation the study of public administration has been especially intense, and this intensity of effort has resulted in a new level of self-consciousness. This is reflected in the idea that the study of public administration is sufficiently important and sufficiently autonomous to become a science or discipline in itself. The conception of a more or less autonomous science or discipline called Public Administration is primarily, if not indeed uniquely, an American idea.

Terminological difficulties. A note on terminology is in order. It is difficult to be either brief or accurate—and more difficult to be both—in speaking of Public Administration in the United States. The key terms, such as administration, execution, and management, have no precise and agreed meanings but rather overlap and conflict, and the differences in usage relate not simply to carelessness and accident but to matters of disciplinary doctrine and methodological and professional dispute. Centrally relevant is the fact that the U.S. constitution has established a threefold separation of institutions and organs, legislative, executive, and judicial, yet relates the three in a complicated fashion in which each of the three branches has functions that in a logic of strict separation would belong to the other two; and this general scheme of construction is repeated in the constitutions of the constituent states. Moreover, the word administration does not occur in the federal constitution. Thus the general question of how administration (or management) relates to executive as used in the constitution—particularly, what institutions and persons are to direct and control administration—is open to dispute. Students in Public Administration have traditionally had and expressed an antilegal bias. The preface of the first Public Administration textbook explicitly states the thesis that “the study of administration should start from the base of management rather than the foundation of law” (White 1926). It is vitally necessary to understand that the rise of Public Administration represented an assertion that the traditional view of public administration as simply the application of legal rules was quite inadequate.

The field in the United States

In the 1950s and 1960s Public Administration changed very greatly. But the nature and significance of these changes can only be understood in terms of past doctrines and interests. For this it is necessary to sketch out the historical and institutional context for the rise of the discipline.

The first two general textbooks of Public Administration in the United States, written by L. D. White and W. F. Willoughby, were published in 1926 and 1927 respectively. In a sense these signified the birth of Public Administration as a discipline. Before these general textbooks appeared, however, there had been several decades of preparation.


Some of the framers of the U.S. constitution and some early U.S. political leaders—for example, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson—gave attention to problems of public administration and wrote on them in ways that foreshadowed later developments. Indeed, there is no sharp point in history where the story of Public Administration begins. However, an essay by the then young Woodrow Wilson (1887) is often taken as the symbolic beginning. Certainly it was a remarkable essay in its perceptiveness, persuasiveness, and influence.

Wilson’s basic postulate was that “it is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one” ([1887] 1953, p. 67). Up to the nineteenth century, he noted, the predominant concerns of the study of governmental affairs were political philosophy, constitutional arrangements, and lawmaking. However, increasing complexities in economic and social life and a concomitant increase in governmental size and activity were forcing a change of emphasis. European countries, he observed, had begun taking very seriously the training of civil servants and the scientific study of administration. The United States should do likewise. In fact, it should study European methods, to learn from them—taking care in the borrowing of these efficient means not to borrow their monarchical or autocratic ends. The United States should rather seek to perfect its republican-democratic constitutional system through the new science: “There should be a science of administration which shall seek to straighten the paths of government, to make its business less unbusinesslike, to strengthen and purify its organization, and to crown its duties with dutifulness” (ibid.).

The rise of Public Administration as a discipline, and the reforms and changes in public administration that stimulated it and that it in turn stimulated and guided, must be understood in relation to developments in national life. Public Administration, that is, represented a response to threats to old values, an adjustment to new conditions of life. As a body of thought and techniques it has been an attempt to preserve the essential parts of the republican-democratic heritage, conceived and developed under comparatively simple rural conditions, under the extremely complex conditions posed by a large industrial nation, itself situated in an international setting of increasing complexity.

Also important to the rise of Public Administration was the rise to self-consciousness of the discipline of political science, evidenced by the creation of the American Political Science Association in 1903. It is important that almost without exception those who might be called the founding fathers of Public Administration were trained as political scientists (rather than, say, jurists or economists) and tended to view Public Administration as a part or subdiscipline of political science. American higher education generally—the modern university with its professional schools—was developing swiftly in these decades. Specialization and expertise were replacing amateurism in many realms, and the development of political science was but an aspect of a movement; the other major social sciences also were achieving differentiation and separate status in the same period.

The 1920s and 1930s

Public Administration acquired certain distinctive characteristics in the 1920s and 1930s.

Public Administration as a synthesis. As it emerged in the mid-1920s Public Administration was a confluence and mixture of three main currents. One of these was the movement for governmental reform, a movement that had been swelling for several decades, which sought to purify government and adjust its institutions to the conditions of modern, industrial, urban society. The second current was scientific management, or what often came to be called the “management movement”: the attempt, centered in private industrial enterprise but extending out from it, to apply the techniques of science to solving problems of organizing and administering with economy and efficiency. The techniques and spirit of scientific management began also to pervade governmental administration and to influence the thinking of those interested in governmental reform and improvement. Its use of the increasingly honorific term science, its promise to reduce cost and increase efficiency, and its aim of replacing ignorance and conflict with knowledge and harmony were extremely appealing to the founding fathers of Public Administration. Scientific management also influenced Public Administration through the concurrently developing discipline of business administration. The third current was the new discipline of political science, which inherited the political philosophies and governmental knowledge of the centuries but was also trying to apply science in a new and more rigorous way to politics and government. Other influences—foreign and domestic—are readily recognizable, but these three constitute the essential ingredients.

The core beliefs. The new Public Administration of the 1920s had certain core, orienting beliefs. Centrally, its leaders thought of their enterprise as an attempt to achieve the republican-democratic ends of freedom and equality by making government simultaneously strong and efficient, responsible and responsive. A program of political reform as well as a mere science of administration was involved. Against the nineteenth-century idea of dividing powers and sharing functions widely among the citizenry was posed a new formula, necessitated by the need for expertise and by modern conditions generally: concentrate power for effectiveness and then watch it closely for responsibility. Indeed, the concentration is as necessary for achieving responsibility as for effectiveness; for only if the citizen’s task is simplified and he knows whom to hold responsible, through his vote and by other means, can he make his influence felt.

In the envisaged reconciliation of “true democracy” and “true efficiency” one postulate is very important, namely, that government is analytically divisible into two different functions, or types of action: first, to decide; and second, to carry out the decision. These two types of action are identified with and by the words politics and administration, respectively. The role of public opinion, the activities of political parties, the functions of legislative bodies—these are identified with politics. Here the clash of opinion and the conflict of values are in order, and science can have only a limited role, efficiency a limited meaning. But once a decision is authoritatively made and a law enacted, then other values and techniques are primarily appropriate; this is the realm of administration. For this, economy and efficiency are the central criteria, and science is the proper method for developing the criteria.

This division of government between politics and administration had many sources—including, again, Wilson’s essay—but one especially influential book must be mentioned: Frank Goodnow’s Politics and Administration (1900). In the idiom of that day, Goodnow spoke of the “will of the state” and identified politics with the expression and administration with the execution of this will. The problem of government, as he viewed it, is to achieve harmony between the expression of the will and its execution, the alternative being conflict or paralysis. But while politics should have a certain control over administration, it should not extend to certain levels and aspects thereof, which embrace “fields of semi-scientific, gwasi-judicial and gwasi-business or commercial activity—work which has little if any influence on the expression of the true state will” (p. 85).

Goodnow made recommendations for various reforms to achieve this necessary and desirable, but limited, control of administration by politics. Goodnow himself did not identify politics simply with the legislative organs or the lawmaking process, nor administration simply with the executive branch or the process of law enforcement. However, as time passed, the student of public administration tended to identify his subject—and indeed himself—with executive institutions and processes and to presume that his subject had qualities of “hardness” lacking in politics and policy making, which made it possible to use science as the central method in study and to take efficiency as the central criterion of success in operation.

The period of orthodoxy. The expression orthodoxy is now often used with reference to Public Administration in the 1920s and 1930s to indicate a quality of general agreement and self-assurance. To be sure, there were differences of seemingly great import among the scholars of the day, but in retrospect certain general beliefs and interests predominated.

The early textbooks afford a summary view of the interests of the newly founded discipline. The most widely used textbook in the period was Leonard D. White’s Introduction to the Study of Public Administration (1926). In the first edition, Chapter 1 is entitled “Administration and the Modern State.” Here are set forth some of what have been designated above as core beliefs: the importance of administration in an increasingly complex and interdependent society, the necessity for efficiency, the possibility and desirability of approaching administration scientifically, and so forth.

The second textbook, W. F. Willoughby’s Principles of Public Administration (1927), differs significantly from White’s in regard to the constitutional authority to control public administration: White regards the president as the chief administrator by constitutional right, whereas Willoughby regards Congress as holding the administrative power by constitutional right, delegating it to the president or other officers at its discretion. In terms of subject matter the chief difference lies in the fact that Willoughby devotes a large part of his book to financial and budgetary aspects of administration and has a section as well dealing with “materiel”—purchasing, storage, and so forth. Textbooks appearing in the 1930s—a revision of White, and others—included treatment of governmental financial-budgetary matters and at least touched lightly on “materiel.”

The word principles in the title of Willoughby’s book indicates an important doctrinal aspect of the older Public Administration that has not yet been mentioned: It was customary to speak of “principles of (public) administration.” A principle was what one arrived at by proper and diligent study; it summed up what had been learned. At the same time, it was a guide to good and efficient administration, a light thrown by research and logic on present and future problems.

The core beliefs may now be summarized. Government is divisible into two functions or processes, decision and execution. Making decisions is the realm of politics and policy making. It is the area in which the processes of democracy are relevant—expression of opinion, voting, organization of political parties, and so forth. Executing decisions, however, which is the realm of administration, presents other problems and needs other criteria. To the processes of administration the methods of science, proved so powerful elsewhere, are relevant. The criteria here are economy and efficiency; and economy can on close analysis be viewed as an aspect of efficiency. Through scientific research of the phenomena of administration we can derive principles of administration, which simultaneously summarize what we have learned and provide formulas for the efficient conduct of administration. By this process of analysis and division we can reconcile the values of democracy with the necessities of efficiency and science in the modern world.

Criticism and transition—the 1940s

Roughly speaking, the period of so-called orthodoxy in Public Administration coincided with the years between the two world wars. In the 1940s the discipline was subjected to searching criticism of its core beliefs, and heterodoxy came to replace orthodoxy. The criticism and new orienting ideas were clearly foreshadowed in the 1930s. In 1937 a work appeared that is commonly regarded as the epitome of orthodoxy, Papers on the Science of Administration, edited by Luther H. Gulick and Lyndall Urwick. But this work not only represented orthodoxy in its most cogent and influential form; it presented papers dealing with the psychological dimensions of administration, which were to become so important in the postwar years. Moreover, in 1936 there had appeared The Frontiers of Public Administration, a series of essays by John M. Gaus, Leonard D. White, and Marshall E. Dimock, in which these prominent figures of the orthodox period introduced points of view later to become important.

Other works of the prewar period criticizing old ideas or introducing new could be cited, but World War II diverted normal streams of scholarly activity, and it was not until the second half of the decade of the 1940s that the most influential critical works appeared. At the same time, however, it should be recognized that the war itself was important in stimulating dissatisfaction with old perspectives and encouraging new ones. Most of the university students and teachers of Public Administration either were engaged in some form of emergency administrative activity or were in some military organization, and they concluded that the textbooks of the day did not adequately describe organization and administration as they had experienced it.

The critical ideas of the younger students were indicated by Robert A. Dahl in 1947, in an essay entitled “The Science of Public Administration: Three Problems.” The first problem arises from the “frequent impossibility of excluding normative considerations from the problems of public administration” (p. 1), as had been the intent or tendency with the politics-administration dichotomy and the accompanying focus upon scientific means to achieve efficiency. Dahl argued that we must “recognize that the study of public administration must be founded on some clarification of ends” (p. 3). The second problem arises from the “inescapable fact that a science of public administration must be a study of certain aspects of human behavior” (p. 4). He criticized the prevalent tendency to treat organization in formal, technical terms and to regard the human beings that constitute organizations more or less as “material.” The study of administration must, he argued, embrace the whole psychological man and must not presume that man is a simple machine responding only and fully to goals of self-interest narrowly conceived. The third problem concerns the conception of principles of administration. The study of Public Administration in the United States, he argued, has been too narrow, too parochial. We have hoped, he said, indeed presumed, that we were enunciating universal principles, but our study has, after all, been limited to a few examples in a few national and historical settings, and we presume too much. “The study of public administration inevitably must become a much more broadly based discipline, resting not on a narrowly defined knowledge of techniques and processes, but rather extending to the varying historical, sociological, economic and other conditioning factors …” (p. 11).

Herbert A. Simon’s Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-making Processes in Administrative Organization (1947) was probably the most important work of the 1940s. It contained a searching critique of the older Public Administration, particularly of its use of “principles.” These so-called principles, he observed, are similar to maxims of folk wisdom and, in fact, given the loose and unscientific way in which they have been derived and stated, cannot be regarded as more than proverbs.

Administrative Behavior represents the direct and vigorous impact on Public Administration of the perspectives and methodology associated with behavioralism (a movement in the social sciences aimed at a higher level of achievement by more careful study of actual behavior, using techniques whose value has been demonstrated in the physical sciences ).

According to Simon, the founders of the older Public Administration failed to appreciate many of the rigorous requirements of true scientific method, but their fundamental deficiency lay in their lack of understanding of the distinctions they had drawn. They failed to appreciate that their rough separation of politics from administration did not preclude a valuational component in many things they presumed they were treating scientifically. In fact, their principles typically represented a conflation and a confusion of the two elements of fact and value.

The philosophical-methodological concerns of the book and the more purely substantive materials (on such subjects as communication and authority) are joined centrally through the concept of decision making: “If any ’theory’ is involved, it is that decision-making is the heart of administration, and that the vocabulary of administrative theory must be derived from the logic and psychology of human choice” (Simon [1947] 1961, p. xiv). As for the psychology of human choice, Simon selected what seemed to him relevant theories from psychology and various social sciences.

Administrative Behavior was paradoxically a radical and a conservative work with respect to Public Administration. It was radical in its rejection of the politics-administration dichotomy and the simultaneous injection of the perspective of logical positivism in approaching questions of policy making and the relation of means and ends, in its proposal to adopt what was becoming a very fashionable term and set of concepts in the social sciences, decision making, into Public Administration; and in its insistence that standards of scientific rigor in Public Administration be sharply raised. At the same time, Administrative Behavior was faithful to some essential beliefs of the older Public Administration. At a time when its claim to be a science was under attack as pretentious, Simon argued forcefully that administrative phenomena are indeed the proper subjects of scientific study—if properly conceived and executed. At a time when the concept of efficiency was under criticism as too narrow and unimaginative a criterion, he carefully defined and refined the concept, made a distinction between pure and practical sciences, and argued that efficiency is a proper criterion as applied to the factual aspects of a practical science of administration. Even the sharp distinction between fact and value, while a much more subtle matter than the distinction between politics and administration, resembles the latter in the formal sense that it is a sweeping twofold division of the universe of administrative phenomena.

Main currents of recent years

Since the critical analyses of the 1940s, Public Administration as a discipline has lacked the self-confidence and coherence of the interwar period. Various approaches or emphases have competed, but none has succeeded in winning the general acceptance of scholars identified with the discipline. No new synthesis has been achieved; no new orthodoxy has replaced the old. In general, Public Administration has grown tremendously in the sense of accepting data, concepts, and perspectives from many sources, chiefly the various social sciences; but it has discarded little, and no organizing framework into which everything will fit has been achieved— or, if achieved, has not been recognized and accepted as such. There are several major currents and emphases, but these often overlap and mingle and, while separated for purposes of discussion, are not necessarily separated in particular books, courses of study, and so forth.

Continuation of the traditional. First, it should be noted that although the 1940s undoubtedly mark a period of criticism and even rejection of the discipline as it emerged in the interwar period, still there has been much continuity with the older Public Administration. Scholars and teachers have naturally varied in their rejection of the traditional and their acceptance of the new. New data and concepts were added to the old; traditional points of view were presented—but qualified and criticized. Most teachers, for example, would present the organization theory of the 1930s because of its wide acceptance and practical importance, whatever criticism they might make or whatever other concepts of organization they might introduce in addition. No teacher would speak confidently of principles of administration. Still, faced with teaching students interested in careers in public administration, he would likely find himself falling back upon some of the “managerial,” efficiency-oriented attitudes and materials of his predecessors.

Politics and policy making. The belief that the practice of administration is a technical problem focused upon efficiency in operation was characteristic of the older Public Administration. The leading students and writers of the postwar period have adopted sharply different attitudes—whatever their other differences—on this matter. It has been generally agreed that while the phenomena of politics and the amount of policy making may decrease as one moves from the top of an administrative agency to its bottom, or into some of the technical processes or functions, still they are generally present in significant degree; and at the level of chief executive or top management, where so much interest is focused, they are important matters indeed.

The results of this recognition have manifested themselves in a variety of approaches. For example, Simon’s decision-making schema attempts to include the valuational as well as the factual. Some writers, for example Paul H. Appleby (1952), have written searchingly on the interaction of politics and administration in a democracy. Some, for example Norton E. Long (1962), have concentrated more sharply on politics-in-administration, on the power factor in administration. Some, for example Emmette Redford (1958), have reflected on how the ethical or public-policy component is brought to bear on the technical component.

Development of a case method. One important development of the postwar period, closely related to the abandonment of the politics-administration dichotomy, has been the development of a case method of study and teaching. There had, indeed, been case programs earlier, but in the mid-1940s at Harvard University there were new beginnings and a development of new objectives and new techniques. An interuniversity program followed the Harvard initiative, and since 1951 the enterprise, further expanded, has operated under the title Inter-University Case Program.

Essentially, those who developed the new case style and format were dissatisfied with older Public Administration as doctrinaire and limited, failing to present and deal adequately with real public administration. As developed, the case is a narrative, an account of a particular, real administrative episode, as written after the events from information gathered from all possible sources. The perspective of the writer might be characterized as “interested but impartial observer,” but he often tries to re-create the perspective of an important participant (or participants) in the episode—a man in a situation having to make a decision. There is an effort to present the “entire situation,” i.e., everything that is relevant to the decision; and the emphasis is more on personal interaction, politics, and policy making than on technical factors.

The production of such cases has been and continues to be a major enterprise of the group of scholars who produce much of the literature in the field. Since in an important sense the focus in case writing is decision making, this might seem to join them to, or at least bring them into relationship with, Simon’s proposal to center the study of administration on decision making. In fact, however, serious philosophical-methodological differences have separated the two despite the formal use of the same term.

“Human relations,” psychology, sociology. In the late 1920s a series of famous experiments focusing upon work groups was carried out at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company (see Roethlisberger & Dickson 1939). The impact of these experiments was very great on both the study of business administration and that of public administration, though in the case of the latter the full effect was not felt until the postwar period.

The Hawthorne experiments demonstrated not only the limitations of the scientific-management approach to increased efficiency by concentration upon monetary rewards and the physical aspects of the work situation but also the importance of psychological and, more broadly, social factors. The Hawthorne experiments signaled a vogue: the “human relations” approach to management. More recently, this term has lost its appeal, as associated with certain excesses and naivete. However, the human relations movement set in train a vast amount of serious scientific research on the psycho-sociological aspects of work and administration.

The questions to which psychological research is directed are, for example: What is morale, what factors affect it, and how is it related to work effectiveness? How do factors in a worker’s perceptions and attitudes relate to the stimuli in the work situation? What factors affect the formation of face-to-face work groups, and what is their significance in administration? How does informal group life generally relate to the formal organization structure and to the official organizational goals? What are the factors involved in the phenomenon of leadership, and how do they relate to the important matter of authority? What makes for conflict, what for cooperation, between groups or organizations?

Research in administration by sociologists has become increasingly important during the postwar period. Only a small part of this research has taken public organizations as its focus, but this part has a high scientific relevance; and all of it has a high potential relevance. Sociology has brought many and varied concepts to administration, but most have clustered about the term bureaucracy, an ideal type set forth by Max Weber. The research findings of sociology have less obvious relevance to immediate problems of efficiency than do those of psychology, but the range of interests and techniques embraced may hold greater promise for coping with organizational problems as they relate to the whole of society. In general, however, Public Administration stands to benefit from the research interests and techniques of both psychology and sociology.

Theory of organization. In recent years there has been great scholarly and scientific interest in organization, and a resultant outpouring of essays, books, and research reports designated by the term theory of organization. It is the view of some that organization itself, as a widespread social phenomenon, warrants the full concentration of many students. There is a widely held belief that there are universals in organizational behavior, that organization can be studied simply as organization, with a resulting body of valid theory of general applicability. One group of students, identified with general systems theory, conceives of human organization as but a type or representative of a still more general phenomenon: systems (which may be biological or physical as well as social).

Some students of public administration are contributing to theory of organization; others, not identified with Public Administration, focus their research effort on public organizations. To the extent that there may be universals of organization, they are by definition relevant to public organizations. In any event, theory of organization is one of the very active areas of contemporary social science related to and contributing to Public Administration.

Comparative Public Administration. Within Public Administration proper, perhaps the area of greatest current scholarly activity—and some would say of greatest promise—is the comparative study of public administration. This interest grows out of the fact that, beginning with World War n, continuing into the postwar military occupations, and accelerating with the many technical assistance programs of the United States, the United Nations, and private foundations, American students and teachers of Public Administration by the hundreds have found themselves engaged in professional work in foreign lands. This exposure to foreign, often non-Western, governmental systems and cultures has stimulated a sense of “compara-tiveness” in general, and in particular raised questions either about the appropriateness or the sheer possibility of transferring familiar administrative devices or applying what had been presumed to be good or scientific principles of administration.

The comparative study of administrative systems parallels the comparative study of political systems —comparative politics. Both movements are characterized by the comparative youth of their participants, by a general commitment to the outlooks identified with behavioralism, by an effort to be interdisciplinary in interests and techniques, and by an effort to arrive at concepts, formulas, and theories that are truly universal, bridging and embracing all cultures.

New technologies and techniques. Recent years have seen the rapid development of various physical devices of significance for administration and a parallel development of various systems of logical thought applicable to the practice of, and to research on, administration. The former include a range of new machines, mostly electronic, that greatly extend the range of—or replace—the hand and, particularly, the brain. These devices, of which the electronic computer in its various forms is the best known, perform certain work, particularly the storage, retrieval, and manipulation of data and the making of complex calculations, with such speed and accuracy that they open up a new range of human experience and potentialities. The sys tems of logical thought that have been newly developed for or applied in administration include certain branches of mathematics and certain quasi-mathematical systems of precise statement and reasoning.

The effect of these developments is to open new and enlarged opportunities for increasing administrative efficiency and rationality—both directly, through application of what is already known or already exists, and indirectly, through opening opportunities for new types of research on problems of organization and management. An example of direct application is operations research, which combines various specialized competences to analyze systems and solve problems. Developed in World War n as a technique for attacking certain problems in military strategy and logistics, operations research is now a speciality with an independent professional organization. Simulation is an example of the expanded potentialities for research. The new physical inventions, plus new or improved systems of logical thought, permit an unprecedented type and scale of simulation. Certain administrative situations (for example, decision-making problems) can be reproduced (simulated) in their essentials, thus helping to solve a perennial problem of social science: how to control and repeat experiments.

Many of these machines, logical systems, and what might be called social technologies, such as operations research, are now used in various branches of public administration; in some branches, such as military logistics and tax administration, they are widely used. On the whole, however, their development and use tends to center in business administration and schools of business administration. Perhaps, on the whole, they are more applicable (both presently and potentially) to business administration than to public administration. Nevertheless, increased knowledge about and use of them is on the agenda of Public Administration.

The field outside the United States

As indicated above, wherever there is government there is public administration, but Public Administration—in the sense of a more or less autonomous discipline of alleged general applicability—was conceived and developed in the United States and is still strongly identified with its place of origin and greatest acceptance. This is not to assert, however, that in countries in which the American idea and content of Public Administration is not accepted the matter of training for public administration is not taken seriously or that there may not be an application of science to the conduct of public administration.

Training for performance of some function in the governmental bureaucracy is a prime object of the system of public education of any country, in some cases nearly the sole object. In all advanced countries there is also some sort of special or differentiated training conceived as preparation for the positions of greatest responsibility and power in public administration—although other factors, such as social class, wealth, party membership, ideological purity, and religion, obviously are likely to enter in as selective criteria. In ancient China, as in modern Great Britain, for example, the regular and officially preferred training for high administrative positions was a humanistic education.

The most commonly accepted and approved training for high position, however, has been law (at least after and apart from training in military pursuits, for military organization is often the training ground for, and a source of supply of, governmental administrators for civil as well as military functions, especially in preindustrial societies). Presumably, this practice grows naturally from the fact that the making and enforcement of law are close to the heart of government; and in widely separated times and places people who know the law and have had their minds sharpened in its study have occupied the highest positions. In Anglo-American countries of the common law, though there is an important private quality in law, there has been a notable amount of this phenomenon; and in continental Europe, with its more immediate Roman background and its civil-law experience, where law is more strongly identified with the idea of the state, the predominant approach to preparation for high position is through study of law and jurisprudence, more particularly, that branch or aspect of the law identified as administrative law. This is not to say, again, that law and only law in a technical and formal sense is all that is taught and regarded as important. While in some situations it is substantially true that public administration is deemed to start and end with a reading and application of the book of detailed legal regulations, in some countries and in some courses of study law is deemed to be only a framework and is supplemented by other materials, including not only those from accepted social sciences (particularly economics), but perhaps from the “management science” around which Public Administration is formed.

Considerable discussion has taken place during the past generation between American and Conti nental students on the question whether it is more correct and fruitful to think and speak in terms of an administrative science or the administrative sciences. The American point of view has been that it is proper to speak of a science of administration, or a science of public administration (though the implications of these two expressions are rather different). Continental students, while willing to concede the importance of administration, have tended to see it rather as a place or process in which various disciplines or sciences closely interrelate.

To some extent, this controversy reflects a formal rather than a substantive difference: curriculums prescribed by the two camps for the training of public administrators might be very similar—for example, both might include sociology and economics, and perhaps administrative law and social psychology as well. At some point, however, there would likely come a parting of the ways, with the Europeans less likely than the Americans to include materials relating to “management science,” more insistent upon materials closely related to their national experiences and traditions, particularly in regard to law.

The communist countries share the Continental legal approach to the study and practice of public administration, though their heritage was in large part through the “second Rome” of Byzantium. This approach remains very strong, although the institutions and theories of communism make for important differences in public administration, and there are other influences, for example, the fact that some of the spirit and techniques of scientific management have been absorbed into communist administration.

Trends, problems, and prospects

A review of the present situation in Public Administration should note some factors pertaining to the conduct and direction of public affairs in the United States that presumably will, or should, relate importantly to the development of the discipline—to the allocation of intellectual resources and the development of doctrines.

One factor is a continuing gradual increase in both the absolute and relative number of public employees. Approximately one in eight employed civilian persons is publicly employed, and while large numbers of these (publicly employed teachers, for example) are engaged in “line” functions, with little administrative responsibility, still the increase in numbers creates a growing problem in public administration: the increase in scale itself poses new problems for those who administer and teach administrators, and the problems are intensified by an increasingly complex technology and an increasingly complex society. For example, to the extent that functions become more differentiated, and specialization and professionalization more advanced, in such fields as health, welfare, and education, the problem is posed of where and how the teaching of administration of such functions should take place. This is a problem of physical location and organizational arrangements; but it is also a problem in the evolution of science, or at least doctrine, posing the theoretical question whether administration is a “universal,” and the practical one whether it should be taught “in general” or as related to the content of the various fields.

Other factors concern changes and trends in public administration. In its origins Public Administration was concerned with certain problems of reform, conceptualized as problems in honesty and competence, and with such problems as departmentalization, executive control, and staff services, in which efficiency and economy were prime concerns. There has been much change and addition: human relations, communications, and so forth. But it is questionable whether recent and contemporary interests are as responsive as they should be to the content and direction of present governmental activities. Taking money as the measure, we might say that Public Administration pays relatively slight attention to two areas that represent more than half of public administration, namely, education and defense. Other important developments are inadequately represented in current professional attention; for example, the urbanmetropolitan revolution in American life; the tremendous expansion of “government by contract and grant,” which has blurred the lines between the public and private sectors and between the federal and state spheres; and the rise of scientific research to the status of a pre-eminent national concern, a rise in which government at every level is involved in ways that lack even simple description and elementary understanding.

Public Administration since the 1940s obviously presents a spectacle of travail and transition, of controversy and confusion. The questions now are posed: Is Public Administration properly regarded as a discipline? Will it continue to be spelled with capital letters in connection with the organization of the intellectual life of the social sciences into curriculums, departments, professional societies, and so forth? The answer to the first of these questions is both a matter of definition and a matter of the unknowns of the future. The answer to the second is very probably positive: Public Administration as an organizing concept will continue and probably grow in importance, although there is presently discernible some tendency to merge its activities and interests with related activities and interests under the broader term public affairs.

If discipline is defined very strictly as an intellectual enterprise with a body of consistent and agreed theory, then Public Administration is not a discipline and almost certainly will not become one. But few if any social sciences, or branches or disciplines thereof, fit this description. Indeed, few if any of the physical sciences do. If discipline is defined in terms of what has been called a core of unifying beliefs, then it is quite possible that in the future one of the now competing perspectives will achieve dominance, or a new synthesis will be achieved. Meanwhile, however, it should be emphasized both that there is no agreement on what constitutes a discipline and that intellectual progress does not await tidy definitions and agreements of opinion.

In regard to the question whether Public Administration will continue as an organizing concept, present trends indicate that its extent and importance, at least in the United States, will almost certainly increase. Concomitantly, there will certainly continue to be an increase in the complexity and difficulty of the problems of public administration in an increasingly complex society and a multiplication of new sciences and technologies bearing upon the processes and problems of administration, as well as continued advances in the old. There is likely to be more, not less, attention to the problems of organizing knowledge to bring it to bear on public administration as well as more, not less, training for and in public administration; and Public Administration will probably provide the organizing framework and the usual name for the central aspects of these enterprises.

We may achieve more clarity of concepts, more agreement among opposing schools of thought, or even a new synthesis; but it is clear that the value of Public Administration for designation of a focus of inquiry and activity, for the organization of research and instruction, does not depend on these eventualities. In fact, at the present stage of development, it may be better to regard Public Administration not as a single “thing,” but as the customary and accepted collective term to designate a focus of interest and activity, in the way that the plural term the administrative sciences is used in Europe for a similar (but not identical) purpose. So used, it is analogous to engineering and medicine in indicating a unifying focus for a wide array of sciences and technologies.

The recent history of Public Administration, and its present problems and opportunities, should be viewed from the perspective of the rejection in the 1940s of the division of politics and administration. That the political process reaches deeply into public administration and that the making of public policy is an important activity of public administration have since been all but universally recognized. But the response has been varied: there is still no general agreement on what conclusions follow, what the methodological implications are, what lines of inquiry are indicated as most appropriate and fruitful, what the implications are for programs of education and training. The discipline is presently trying to find its way through the tangle of issues. Many of the issues are posed in putative dichotomies and verbal antinomies: politics and administration, political science and Public Administration, science and art, pure science and practical science, fact and value, prescription and description, administrative science and administrative sciences, diversity and similarity, absolutism and relativism, universality and uniqueness, generality and concreteness. Whether in general or in any particular case the dichotomies are properly conceived, the antinomies properly opposed, is questionable, and they undoubtedly present a tangled skein to the student. In the last analysis, however, it must be universally conceded that important problems are involved.

The two most important immediate responses to the rejection of a separation between politics and administration were the application of the case method to the study of public administration and the reformulation presented in Simon’s Administrative Behavior. These two responses were rather near the opposite ends of the spectrum of methodological possibilities.

The case approach has been motivated by a commitment to the objectives and methods of the social sciences, to be sure, but it has been shaped also by a considerable sensitivity to traditional concerns of the humanities and by a practical interest in pedagogy as against research. It sought the truth about administration by trying, dispassionately and painstakingly, to tell the story about what takes place in administration, in actual events, in context, and in all relevant dimensions. A large number of the abler students of the postwar generation in Public Administration were attracted to the case approach, and it continues to be of major importance.

The reformulation set forth in Administrative Behavior did not, paradoxically, attract many students in Public Administration—to whom it was presumably addressed—but it was and is highly regarded by students of business administration and apparently has been very influential in research in that field. Simply put, students in Public Administration were inclined to feel that Simon’s work did not describe the world of public administration as they had experienced and observed it. To a generation emancipated from the politicsadministration dichotomy, Simon’s separation of fact and value seemed but another artificial division of the universe into two realms. Simon’s commitment to a “hard” interpretation of social science, his philosophical and methodological program, were unappealing. However, younger students, more familiar with and affected by behavioralism, probably find the formulations more meaningful and appealing, and it is possible that the work thus may have a delayed, direct impact on the discipline, in addition to the indirect influence that it has already exercised.

The most significant development in Public Administration, currently engaging the attention and energies of a large number of students both young and mature, is the focusing of attention on comparative public administration and the related problems of “development administration.” This attention grows out of personal experience, is related importantly to world-wide developments that are likely to continue, and is addressed to a wide spectrum of interests from concrete policy questions to the abstractions of the pure social sciences.

For the most part, it is the younger students in Public Administration who are active in the comparative movement, and certainly it is they who are chiefly interested in the theoretical-scientific questions. For the most part and in a general sense these younger students are behaviorally oriented; they are knowledgeable about and have a concern with the central problems of the social sciences. But the paradox noted above is further exemplified: They are not especially attracted by the formulations and interests of Simon, but find their inspiration, models, and techniques in other parts of the contemporary social sciences, most notably in the companion movement in political science—comparative politics—and in sociology.

From the point of view of the scientific study of public administration, the course of future developments would seem to rest in large measure on the respective futures of the comparative public administration movement and the administrative science point of view. By the latter is meant the outlook and research interests (including but not limited to those of Simon) that are identified in a general way with business administration: in a general way they grow out of the old scientific-management movement as modified by the Hawthorne studies; are strongly oriented historically toward efficiency and currently toward the related, but broader, “rationality” (or the even broader decision-making schema); make considerable use of mathematics; include but are not limited to the new technologies and techniques discussed above; and aspire to a science of administration in every essential way as scientific as current physical science. Administrative science as an approach or movement is closely joined with, but still distinguishable from, the theory-of-organizations movement. Both movements—particularly the theory of organizations—are sometimes concerned with “comparativeness” in some aspect, but their concern is largely with intracultural, not intercultural comparison.

In the broadest sense, the future of Public Administration is engaged with the future of political science, on the one hand, and with administrative science, on the other. It has, from its beginnings, represented a joining of certain interests of political science with the “management” movement; and it still does, granted all the additional factors, the new developments, the broadened spectra. What meaning and importance will be given to the Public in Public Administration, whether it will evaporate or remain significant, perhaps even become more significant, will depend in large part on what developments take place in political science and in the social sciences—indeed in contemporary thought—as a whole.

Dwight Waldo


Appleby, Paul H. 1952 Morality and Administration in Democratic Government. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press.

Dahl, R. A. 1947 The Science of Public Administration: Three Problems. Public Administration Review 7:1-11. A brief, incisive critique of “orthodoxy.”

Davy, Thomas J. 1962 Public Administration as a Field of Study in the United States. International Review of Administrative Sciences 28:63-78. -> An excellent review of trends, in which the major contemporary orientations are treated under four headings: managerial, political, psychological, and sociological.

De Grazia, Alfred 1960 The Science and Values of Administration. Administrative Science Quarterly 5:363-397, 557-582. -” Observations and conclusions by a leading behavioralist, presenting an “action” schema for the understanding of administration.

Gaus, John M.; White, Leonard D.; and Dimock, M. E. 1936 The Frontiers of Public Administration. Univ. of Chicago Press. -“An outstanding work of the period, foreshadowing later developments.

Goodnow, Frank J. 1900 Politics and Administration: A Study in Government. New York: Macmillan. -” A classic work in American political science and Public Administration.

Gulick, Luther H.; and Urwick, Lyndall (editors) (1937) 1954 Papers on the Science of Administration. New York: Institute of Public Administration. -“Regarded as the high-water mark of “orthodoxy“; much of it still interesting and relevant to present concerns.

Heady, Ferrel 1966 Public Administration: A Comparative Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. -> Discusses the significance of comparative studies for Public Administration and relates public administration to political systems.

Landau, Martin 1962 The Concept of Decision-making in the “Field“of Public Administration. Pages 1–28 in Sidney Malick and Edward H. Van Ness (editors), Concepts and Issues in Administrative Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. -> An incisive essay, critical of present intellectual orientations and urging a sharper scientific approach centered on decision making.

Long, Norton E. 1962 The Polity. Chicago: Rand Mc-Nally.

Molitor, Andre 1959 The University Teaching of Social Sciences: Public Administration. Paris: UNESCO. -> A valuable world-wide review, discussing among other matters the issue of “administrative science“versus “administrative sciences.”

Molitor, Andre 1961 Public Administration Towards the Future. International Review of Administrative Sciences 27:375-384. -” Observations and estimates on present and future developments, distinguishing between developed and developing countries.

Mosher, Frederick C. 1956 Research in Public Administration: Some Notes and Suggestions. Public Administration Review 16:169-178. -“Contains valuable reflections on the status and problems of Public Administration.

Pittsburgh, University Of, Administrative Science Center 1959 Comparative Studies in Administration. Univ. of Pittsburgh Press.” See especially the Foreword and the Introduction for a statement of the administrative science point of view.

Redford, Emmette S. 1958 Ideal and Practice in Public Administration. University: Univ. of Alabama Press.

Robson, William A. 1961 The Present State of Teaching and Research in Public Administration. Public Administration (London) 39:217-222. -“A British view of current trends, rather negative regarding American theories and hopes. The journal is the main source of information on the British approach to the study of public administration.

Roethlisberger, Fritz J.; and Dickson, William J. 1939 Management and the Worker: An Account of a Research Program Conducted by the Western Electric Company, Hawthorne Works, Chicago. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. -” A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Wiley.

Sayre, Wallace S. 1958 Premises of Public Administration: Past and Emerging. Public Administration Review 18:102-105.

Simon, Herbert A. (1947) 1961 Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-making Processes in Administrative Organization. 2d ed. New York: Macmillan. -> A seminal work, offering both a critique of accepted doctrine and a program for reconstruction.

Waldo, Dwight 1948 The Administrative State: A Study of the Political Theory of American Public Administration. New York: Ronald Press. -“A thorough historical review of the rise of Public Administration, containing also a critique of doctrines.

Waldo, Dwight 1955 The Study of Public Administration. New York: Random House; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubled ay.

Waldo, Dwight 1965 The Administrative State Revisited. Public Administration Review 25, no. 1:5-30. -” Discusses doctrinal developments and problems in Public Administration since the publication of The Administrative State in 1948.

White, Leonard D. (1926) 1955 Introduction to the Study of Public Administration. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.

Willoughby, William F. 1927 Principles of Public Administration: With Special Reference to the National and State Governments of the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Wilson, Woodrow (1887) 1953 The Study of Administration. Pages 65–75 in Dwight Waldo (editor), Ideas and Issues in Public Administration. New York: McGraw-Hill. -“An interesting and significant historical document in Public Administration.

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