Reform in American Public Administration


Public administration reform began during the 1980s aiming at increasing government performance and citizen’s satisfaction with public services. As the political environment affects public administration reform, it settles and reinforces democracy. Reform of the human resource management systems is an essential part as the quality of government work eventually depends on their performance. This essay will present the current efforts for reform in public administration considering human resources and the quality of individuals working in public administration.


In a democratic environment, it is necessary for public administration to carry out the fine balance between bureaucracy, which has to be authoritative to be effectual and be answerable to the people and elected officials. Kettl and Fessler explained the continuous nudging of political forces makes the role of bureaucracy more argumentative, however, no less critically essential to governing authorities. During the process of reform, it has to be clear that innovation is hard to do, as it disturbs traditional relations and behaviors. However, with the beginning of the 21st Century, many world countries’ governments became occupied with the process of administrative reform and setting up a culture of novelty and modernization (Kamarck, 2004).

The aim of this essay is to discuss the current efforts to reform public administration from the viewpoint of human resources and the quality of individuals working in public administration.


The public administration reform movement began during the 1980 s, mainly in the United Kingdom, and extended to other countries to include the United States in 1993. The movement ran into two phases, first was the transition to a free-market economy, and focused mainly on transforming government ownership of industries as airlines and telecommunications. The United States did not have to go through this phase, as a free economy was the policy adopted from the start, what made the ideological roots deeper, unlike other western countries, of the movement during the Reagan-Thatcher period. The second phase in the 1990 s paid less attention to privatization and directed more efforts to administrative reform (Kamarck, 2004).

In the US, public opinion was the driving force behind the efforts for administrative reform or as it was broadly termed government renovation. The Acquisition Reform Act Of 2003 settled the debate, and recognized the need for training of the working force, developing their skill (Human Capital Management) (Stephen A. Perry statement, 2003). In few words, the Act recognized reassessment of public management using private management techniques to produce better public administrative efficiency (Schmidt, 2000).

The process of reform of public administration is not without inherent difficulties in ideas and hypotheses. First, some rules and procedures need rephrasing or reconstruction to achieve a successful shift to administration efficiency. A good example is the process of procurement whose fundamentals differ markedly in public administration from the private one. Second, as commonly alleged, bureaucratic structures limit the aptitude, prospects, and motivating creative behavior of public administration employees. Simplifying public administration procedures such as procurement procedures as well as empowering federal employees are essential to reform of public administration (Schmidt 2000).

Politics and public administration design

Wood and Bohte, 2001 conducted quantitative research of 141 federal agencies (established through US history until 1989). They tried to validate the theory that administrative forms and designs indicate efforts by winning alliances to enhance political gains and at the same time minimizing doubt about the prospects of those gains. They stated the institutional concerns of both Congress and the President on legislative endorsement are driving forces for administrative renovation. Interconnecting policy and administrative design are complex because the policy will remain insecure with an administrative form that allows the opposition to influence or gain control on the carrying out machinery. Therefore, matters of administration design and control become an integral part of political negotiations. Under conditions of coalitional authority control and a harmonious chief executive, legislative alliances decide on administrative structures that produce greater receptiveness and greater allotment of benefits. Wood and Bohte, 2001 inferred the processes of administrative reform shown in their study suggest federal bureaucracy is a mixture of administrative forms revealing politics of the time rather than concern for a prompt public policy. They also suggested that pushing force towards executive centralization drives the system towards greater democratic answerability and centralized administration. However, this force is constrained by former administrative forms, legislative motivation, and collective institutional influence. Therefore, while needed design qualities may exist for some policies, effective and democratic answerable administration will continue to be identifiable for the future.

Reforming public administration human resources management

The challenge with reforming human resources management of public administration is that voices of reform focus on almost every feature from design to operation, in a concise statement, everyone expects public administration to work better and cost less. Thus, the question becomes how to resolve the unavoidable divergence between sound wise management that highlights competency, output, and pace, and political public management that stresses harmony, concession, and honesty (Lavigna, 2003).

Lavigna, 2003, examined reforming the government’s human resource management structure. Lavigna, 2003, assumed that while there is a general agreement that personnel systems must become more reactive and adaptable, putting the word to actuality is a hard challenge in the complex environment of the government. It is important to understand that the concepts of removing poorly performing employees in the public sector are more difficult than those in the private sector employment by preference approach. It is also important to notice removing poorly performing public administration personnel is for cause, displaying the system can function. Human resources planners and reformers should consider that legislators (Congress, State, or City Councils) did not put laws and rules randomly. The basic essence of these laws and rules is to base personnel decisions on merit and to protect employee’s rights. Planners and reformers have also to bear in mind the many constituencies the government serves, and that government-designed personnel processes are transparent, easy to get to, and not just efficient.

Lavigna, 2003, suggested some practices for human resources reform; they include; decentralizing human resources management processes to promote empowerment to managers and functional units. In addition, rephrasing and modulating obsolete and limiting rules, employment should be easier and faster and at the same time, dealing with poor performers should be less complicated. Finally, Lavigna stressed the importance of providing employees with more and better training.

Reform in motivating public administration employees

Perry and others, 2006, in their review, supported the opinion of Katz in that organizations have to elicit three types of employee behavior as indicators of a successful motivation outcome. These behaviors are membership (attachment) behavior that is the ability of the organization to attract and retain employees. Second, is the reliable role (responsible) behavior, in the sense of regular attendance and satisfactory standards of work performance. Third, is inventive unprompted behavior, where employees take initiatives and personal creativity to achieve the organizational activity. They examined motivating employees of public administration and inferred there are four general observations that can provide the basis for future discussions.

  1. Getting involved to change human performance remains a vague and ill-defined process. Furthermore, although literature and research programs on motivational rewards and management by objectives are individually familiarized and adjusted, an understanding of individual human behavior remains a cornerstone in more evasive planning for the design and management of human resources systems.
  2. The growing assortment of organizational and structural designs of public administration produces a variety of incentive tools, long identified by the private sector, into action for renovating public administration.
  3. There are gaps in the understanding of motivating human performance, which is important to reform public administration. An example is do managers and organizations carry out actions based on good theories and research?
  4. To fill these gaps, public administration managers and colleagues should contribute to the expansion of the present knowledge.

Public administration reform: Leadership role in serving the society

The answer to the question of whether public administration reformers are leaders as they improve administration performance, providing better service to the population even if cutting the red tape, is the center of an unsettled debate. Some believe that in doing so, public administration reformers may threaten democracy (by working independently). Moreover, they may be driven by their ambitions rather than public interests; the answer to those questions depends on how the public wishes public administration reformers to act on their behalf with the political government mechanisms (Berry, 2007). The second question is there a role for public managers in the policy process. The answer to this question illustrates the ideological difference between public reform in the US and that in Europe. In western countries other than the US, they believe in separation between administration and policy and a chief executive should hold on to political strategies established by the government (Berry, 2007).

In any case, Berry, 2007 assumed the desirable values to be transmitted by the process of public administration reform are government professionalism, transparency, establishing or reinforcing democracy, highly efficient and easily accessible public services.


Public administration reform is part of the endeavor to settle new democracies and reinforce well-settled democracies. Human resources systems reforms are at the center of the reform process as eventually, the result whether citizen’s trust or satisfaction with government performance depends on the quality, bureaucratic accountability, and ethical behavior of the personnel. Public administration reform can help transmission of professionalism, transparency, and accountability by increasing citizen’s trust in their governments.


Kamarck E C. (2004). Government Innovation around the World. 2008. Web.

US General Services Administration. (2003). Statement of Stephen A. Perry Administrator General Services Administration. Washington DC: Committee on Government Reform and the United States House of Commons.

Schmidt C P (2000). Changing Bureaucratic Behavior: Acquisition Reform in the United States Army. Santa Monica, Ca: Rand.

Wood, D B. and Bohte J. (2001).The Politics of Administrative Design: The Scientific Study of the Bureaucracy Conference. Houston, Texas: Texas A&M University.

Lavigna, R (2003). Reforming Public Sector Human Resource Management Best Practice From the Practitioner’s View [Hays, S. W. and Kearney, R.C (Eds)]. Chapter 24: Public Personnel Administration: Problems and Prospects. Prentice Hall (Pearson Education). New Jersey.

Perry, J L, Mesch, D and Paarlberg, L (2006). New Governance Era: The Performance Paradigm Revisited Public Administration Review. Public Administration Review, 66 (4), 89-122.

Berry, F S. (Eds.). (2007). Leading the Future of the Public Sector: The Third Transatlantic Dialogue. Delaware-USA: University of Delaware.