What Is Public Administration?


Public administration in its broad definition can be used to refer to development and implementation of institutional policies, public decision making structures and designing the criteria for delivery of public services (Shafritz, 2008). This is carried out to foster goodwill from the public by enhancing governance in the running of the public service affairs. Public administration tasks are carried out by public servants in the public departments and public agencies in government offices.

History of public administration

The discipline traces its roots in the early 19th century and has since evolved to a well structured functional unit. During the 19th century, morality and political human nature were emphasized as the guiding factor to the governing bodies. This era is known as the progressive era. It provided the first ideas of a government. Kenneth (2000) noted that Europe pressed on with its diplomatic tactics which were predominantly war, and the states started to device methods to ensure stability by law, security and military. This led to the quest for professionals who were able to read, write, keeping legal records, military prowess and keep record of taxes collected. With advancing European military colonization, the need for expertise in the field grew, probing King Frederick of Prussia to introduce Cameralism, leading to a breed of trained individuals in the area (Shafritz, 2008).

Woodrow Wilson of United States wrote an article in1887 entitled “The Study of Administration”, describing the need to separate politics from administration. These efforts made him be branded the father of public administration following his model of politics-administration dichotomy. Wilson’s thoughts were later challenged by a new breed of scholars. In their place, Luther Gulick suggested a continuous network of instructions and interaction. Gulick’s efforts culminated in a theory that summarized the duties of the administrators into an acronym POSDCORB, standing for Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting, and Budgeting. By the end of 1940’s, the spotlight was on coming up with a model that incorporated both public and private sectors to be focused on governmental organizations.

The debate on politics-administration dichotomy still raged on post World War II to 1970’s. It was around this period that the US government came under sharp criticism regarding its entrance in the Vietnam War and other internal scandals (Shafritz 2008). Research has shown that the public’s outcries calling for the separation of the politics from public administration were heard as the Hoover Commission, chaired by University of Chicago Professor Louis Brownlow re-examined the government organization and recommended formation of Public Administration Service (PAS). The PAS’s mandate was to offer consultancy to the government at all levels.

The PAS idea was challenged in the 1980’s by yet another generation of scholars. They came up with New Public Management. This would see integration of inventions; resources and administrative ideas developed in the private sector to assist run the public sector. This model was adopted later during the Clinton administration (1992-2000), when Al Gore the then vice president implemented it and reformed federal agencies. The public’s take on the model was that it treated the Americans like “customers” rather than “citizens”. However, the model continues to be used widely.

Janet and Robert Denhardt attempted to challenge the model in 1990’s. Carolyn (2000) wrote that their main driving force was the quest to reverse the focus of the Americans to “citizens” rather than “customers”. The proposed model gave the citizens an opportunity to participate actively in policy making. The model is feasible at federal, state and local levels but with the current emergence of networked administration across nations and states, the degree of involvement by the citizen has reduced to insignificant levels.

The New Public Management (NPM) is in use currently at all government levels. Whether the system is going to withstand the test of time hangs in a balance with many people predicting Digital Era Governance as the most possible replacement. This would combine handling of all government responsibilities and needs, based on task execution and digitalization which is the part incorporating the use of modern emerging technologies and digital storage (Frederickson, 2003).


The field of public administration has a definite impact on the society and will still continue to impact the lives of the citizens for years to come. With emerging challenges like hunger in the society today, public administration will be charged with the task of devising means to solicit wealth to curb the challenges and also come up with a broad range of objectives. To diversify the role of public administration today, a number of processes have been incorporated which include: performance management, quality checks and customer care, initiating governance and incorporation on information and communication technologies (Kenneth et al 2000).

Reference List

Carolyn,H., and Lynn, L. (2000). Governance and Performance: New Perspectives. Washington: George Town University.

Frederickson,G. (2003). The Public Administration Theory Premier. Boulder, CO: West View press.

Kenneth, K., Marson, B., and Borins, S. (2000). The New Public organization. Toronto: Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

Shafritz, M J., Russel, E. W., and Borrik, C. (2008 ). Introducing Public Administration. New York: Pearson Longman.