Current Issues in Administration – Democracy and Public Administration

Introduction

The term democracy simply refers to the government by the people. Since this term keeps on changing depending on its interpretation by the specific society at hand, it thus becomes very difficult to formulate a more concise definition. However, Richard (2007) made an attempt of giving a more detailed definition by asserting that democracy is a form of government in which the people rule. He further explained that the term democracy comes from the combination of two Greek words: Demos which means people and Kratos meaning rule. Early philosophers tend to highly differ on a common meaning of democracy. Richard (2007) states that there is no universal agreed-upon interpretation of the term democracy. In Athens for instance, democracy meant the rule by the poor majority (Richard, 2007). But this understanding was found to present several hiccups in that it later led to anarchy. To overcome the problems posed by this misinterpretation of the term, Plato recommended a shift from rule by the poor majority to rule by the minority elite, the philosophers (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992).

Public administration on the other hand can be broadly defined as the development and implementation of government policies for the public good (Frederick, 1999). It is therefore concerned with concerted efforts to avail an efficient and effective public service to the citizens of any particular country in question as the case may be (Frederick, 1999). The idea of the public good is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as the “common good” thereby implying that public administration is for the good of everyone (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992). In view of this definition, public administration is therefore considered to be an area of operation by public servants working in various public institutions in varied categories with different job descriptions (Frederick, 1999). It is therefore the work of civil servants to formulate, execute as well as revise the numerous government policies for the purpose of availing effective services to the public (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992).

As already mentioned, public administration is a very broad field and as such is also found in the academic field. It is therefore offered in academia as a subject drawing much on the theories and concepts found in other related subjects such as political science, sociology and business administration offered in learning institutions (Berman, 1982). In comparing public administration and business administration, the two are found to differ on a large scale. Public administration has goals that are related to the democratic values of improving services delivery to the public without much economic while business administration is primarily concerned with taxable profit (Berman, 1982). In recent times, public administration has diverged into a more economically driven system in operations known as public management as cited by Osborne & Gaebler (1992). This system is found to improve the achievement of the earlier mentioned public good as compared to public administration.

Historical development of public administration

The earliest known noble beginnings of public administration are traced back to the times of classic, medieval, and enlightened scholars such as Plato, Aristotle, Vishnu Gupta and Machiavelli who formed the foundation of the discipline. It is recorded that the Western European perspective of public administration was first brought to light by a German professor from Vienna, Lorenz von Stein as early as around 1855 (Richard, 2007). Later, several studies by Osborne & Gaebler (1992) indicate that the idea of public administration came to the United States through Woodrow Wilson in 1887. Osborne & Gaebler (1992) further explain that this stage of development in time is remembered for four concepts which he named as “separation of politics and administration, comparative analysis of political and private organizations, improving efficiency with business-like practices and attitudes toward daily operations and finally improving the effectiveness of public service through the management and by training civil servants” (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992).

With the advent of second-generation scholars like the renowned Luther Gulick and Fayol, the dominance of Wilson’s concept in public administration was greatly challenged (Rubin, 1997). Luther Gulick for instance came up with a scientific method for measuring efficiency, professionalism, structural reform, and executive control in public administration. According to him, there are seven fundamental duties in an organization that must be performed by all administrators. In the same vein, Fayol presented a management tool that could be used to measure performance in both the private practice and the public sector, as cited by Rubin (1997).

The mid-1940s throughout the 1970s saw the emergence of the third generation which perceived the government as an ineffective and inefficient entity that was only good for nothing (Richard, 2007). This view of the third generation theorists was a big challenge and a contradiction to that held by theorists Wilson and Gulick who saw the government as a very significant entity. In the views of the third generation, the government was seen as evil, involved in deception and self-destructive behavior (Rubin, 1997). A good example of this argument quoted by Rubin (1997) is found in the “sometimes deceptive and expensive American interventions in Vietnam along with domestic scandals including Watergate”. In this respect, the third generation theorists with the unanimous support of all citizens called for the replacement of the ineffective, wasteful bureaucracy with a more efficient administration (Richard, 2007). The public administration in response to this call distanced itself from politics in an effort to improve its effectiveness (Richard, 2007).

Studies by Osborne & Gaebler (1992) and Richard (2007) indicate that the New Public Management started to emerge in the late 1980s effectively displacing the third generation. From this new generation, it was found fitting to advocate the “use of private sector innovation, resources, and organizational ideas to improve the public sector” (Richard, 2007). Frederick (1999) pointed out that the application of the new public management model was evident “during the Clinton administration when vice president Al Gore adopted and reformed federal agencies accordingly”. In the period from 1992 to 2000, the new public management was found prevalent throughout the US bureaucracy (Richard, 2007). However, this model was not very popular with some critics who argued that it had reduced the American people into mere economic units incapable of democratically participating in the running of their motherland (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992).

Next in the line development was the new public service model late in the 1990s. This model attempted to deal with the contentious issues contained in the new public management model which viewed Americans as “customers” to be used as a means to an end (Richard, 2007). Consequently, the new public service model overturned this trend and advocated the perception that Americans are “citizens” other than mere “customers” (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992). This called for full participation of all citizens in matters of the government particularly by taking an active role throughout the policy formulation and implementation process (Richard, 2007). This preposition was only feasible at the federal, state & local levels at a time when there was no great upsurge of ‘transnational administration’ transcending across international boundaries. But with the world becoming a global village, a growing number of organizations and company executives transcended international boundaries thus complicating the prospects for citizen engagement (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992).

Current issues in Administration

In view of the foregoing, several issues have emerged in the area of administration specifically as it pertains to the reforms instituted since the inception of the institution. The earliest attempts to initiate reforms in public administration date back to 1883 when George H. Pendleton, Senator of Ohio sponsored the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 as indicated by Rubin (1997). The main aim of passing this piece of legislation was to try and combat corruption in the appointment and dismissal of employees in government positions. In fact, the act discouraged political interference in matters pertaining to the operations of civil servants. This act also barred public officers from having any political affiliations to any of the registered and unregistered political parties. To ensure full implementation of the act, the Civil Service Commission was established as pointed out by Frederick (1999).

Next in the line of reforms came the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. This act encompassed a wide variety of reforms most importantly the abolishment of the Civil Service Commission and the creation of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in its place (Rubin, 1997). Apart from this, the act inaugurated the “Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and The Federal Labor Relations Authority” (Richard, 2007). On a great deal, the act is charged with maintaining unwavering accountability and transparency of all federal employees for their work performance according to Frederick (1999). The act was also charged with the protection of members of the public willing to volunteer any cases of corruption in the public sector.

In 1989, the National Commission on Public Service was established to handle matters concerning civil servants (Richard, 2007). The main purpose of the commission was to try and raise the morale of civil service employees in an attempt to arrest the declining recruitment and retention levels in the service and avert a looming crisis as indicated by Frederick (1999). In fact, the looming crisis threatened the very capability of the government to carry out its functions effectively to satisfy the vibrantly growing demand on the government. Among the looming crisis, the commission was keen to note that public attitudes, political leadership, and internal management systems formed the basic underlying threats to the government’s performance.

In an effort to try and address some of these problems, the national commission on public service emphasized teamwork amongst all the employees in the public sector to improve service delivery by the government (Richard, 2007). Secondly, it was also suggested that the number of presidential appointees should be reduced in an effort to absorb more civil servants at the top. This suggestion was seen to be viable since the civil servants are deemed to be professionals and results-oriented as compared to the political appointees. Finally, the commission recommended that the government should be able to provide a competitive pay package commensurate with the competitive performance demanded from the employees (Richard, 2007). The competitive remuneration was also intended to aid in recruiting and retaining an excellent workforce in the civil service.

Another landmark development was observed in1993 when laws regulating employees in government on their political affiliations were relaxed (Frederick, 1999). Before this development, the law completely barred any federal government employee from being an affiliate of any political grouping both actively or passively. On the contrary, the amended act allowed the majority of the federal employees to take part in political management and political campaigns as cited by Rubin (1997). The relaxed law was found to be applicable to both employees in the public sector and other agencies supported and financed by the government (Frederick, 1999).

As it were, these reforms gave rise to the current trends in government administration ranging from new public management through the new public service, personnel administration/management to modern-day human resources management. The current issues that are manifested in these structures are first of all found in the new public service where landmark changes have been noticed in the shift from the use of the term “government scholar” to the use of the term “policy analyst” (Frederick, 1999). From the operational point of view, the new public service put more emphasis on the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure effectiveness in service delivery (Richard, 2007). In relation to this regard, I’m contented to hold the view that the shift of government officials from being mere ‘fence sitters’ to being active participants in the whole process of policy formulation and implementation was truly commendable.

In the emerging new concepts of management, the issue of political meddling in the affairs of organizational administration has been highly discouraged. Organizational administrators have been given the autonomy to carry out their mandates devoid of any political influence from the political class. Consequently, it has been observed that public administration has recorded a lot of marked improvement on adopting this stance (Richard, 2007). Public administrators have really posted value-added results in their administrative roles putting the interest of the citizens before their own. The new crop of administrators is lauded for their continued emphasis on formulating the right kind of policies and ensuring their full implementation, unlike their predecessors. Richard (2007) explains that the policy analysts found in the new public service model have become the darlings of the citizens particularly in their skillful ways evident in their decision-making. In this case, a greater degree of autonomy is allowed to the policy analysts and workplace diversity. Additionally, it has been argued that the new public service model offers the citizens to provide service to the community thus developing a deep sense of grassroots attachment (Frederick, 1999). Moreover, the new public service model is very flexible both in design and operation thereby allowing a wide degree of interaction with the private sector. In this sense, it has been established that public employees are capable of borrowing largely from management ideas applied in the private sector.

Another current issue that has been identified in public administration is the evolution of the new style of management in organizations. A good number of organizations have adopted the new style of allocating jobs to employees based on their academic qualifications and abilities to effectively carry out such tasks. In view of this, job descriptions have become a mandatory requirement for organizations before filling key vacant positions. This requirement makes it possible to recruit the most suitable employee for the advertised vacancy as opposed to the previous system of recruitment (Berman, 1982). As the previous system of recruitment had numerous levels and scales particularly in the public sector, this fact is found to be greatly lacking in the new system where human resources is a highly valued component in the management of the organization. The system emphasizes more on employee relations and compensation than anything else. In view of this, therefore, the pay system for Federal employees is influenced largely by the academic qualifications as well as the individual employee performance index and work experience (Berman, 1982). In this connection, it is the legal duty of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to come up with job descriptions for the various levels of work as cited by Berman (1982).

From the above foregoing discourse, the HR structure has defined five categories of work levels. The topmost level is composed by the professional and requires academic qualifications equivalent to a bachelor’s degree or higher (Berman, 1982). The level, therefore, requires an individual of aptitude knowledge acquired through training and particularly enhanced by work experience to the level of making professional judgments. The administrative level on the other hand does not require specialized education but may cherish a wide range of technical skills coupled with a rich field of work experience (Berman, 1982). For an individual to fit in this level, it is imperative for him/her to be able to exercise some knowledge of principles, concepts, and practices used in the fields of administration and management (Berman, 1982). Critical analysis of issues and problems is a fundamental aspect of this level of work.

Technical is the third level of work defined by the HR structure where extensive practical knowledge gained through experience and specific training are a basic requirement (Berman, 1982). Studies available indicate that individuals in this work level may be required to possess some substantial knowledge of the work done at the professional or administrative levels (Berman, 1982). Work execution at the technical level demands high degrees of technical skills, care, and precision from the employees concerned according to Berman (1982). Next is the clerical level of work which involves the provision of supportive services in the office or fiscal operations (Rubin, 1997) and can be done by the secretary or the mail clerk. Finally, there is the category of “other” which involves occupations in the general schedule. These work tasks do not clearly fit into either one of the groups discussed above and may not have any academic or other specific qualifications.

Public budgeting is also another current issue in administration and may encompass the three key functions which have been identified as strategic planning charged with deciding on the goals and objectives of an organization (Rubin, 1997). It is also instituted with the function of management control where the goals and objectives laid out through strategic planning are capable of seeing the light of the day. Finally, the implementation stage is the most crucial one in that it is responsible for achieving all the goals and objectives set out by the management of the organization (Rubin, 1997). In essence, the roles of any government in the economy based on this issue can be summarized as vital in the allocation of resources, distribution of goods and services, and economic stabilization according to Rubin (1997).

As cited by Rubin (1997), the general functions of a budget document are categorized into two main models namely the Traditional Model and the Modern Model. The traditional model, on one hand, performs three functions namely: control, management and planning (Rubin, 1997). The modern model on the other hand purposes to accomplish the following functions listed as monitoring, steering and strategic brokering as demonstrated by Rubin (1997).

Conclusion

It has been established through the text that there has not been a single satisfactory definition of democracy even though different people in different places have attempted to come up with their own interpretations of the term (Richard, 2007). The divergent interpretations found across the political divide were blamed for the insurgents found in communities in the olden days and this in effect disqualified most of the common definitions proffered at that time. Plato particularly proposed the rule by the minority elite, the philosophers to be a more fitting definition as cited by Osborne & Gaebler (1992).

Public administration emerged to be a very wide field encompassing both the political academic arenas. In the political arena, public administration refers to the efforts shown by the government to avail effective and efficient services to the public particularly at no economic value (Frederick, 1999). Similarly, when taken from the academic arena, public administration differs on a larger scale from business administration in that it has goals that are related to the democratic values of improving services delivery to the public at a non-profit level according to Berman (1982). Throughout the text, it has been demonstrated that public administration developed with its earliest beginnings in Western Europe in 1885 to modern-day new public service and human resources management.

Several current issues emerged to be pertinent in public administration as they apply to the day-to-day lives of the citizens of a country. During the reforms initiated in the field of public administration, so many legislations were passed in an effort to make the public administration better and efficient in service delivery. It is indicated that these reform Acts started way back in 1883 through to 1993 which amended the Hatch Act 1939 according to Frederick (1999). But all in all, the most noticeable current issue to emerge was the HR structure which defines the operational structure of the employees in the Federal government. Similarly, public budgeting emerged to show its significance in facilitating the government in the allocation of resources, distribution of goods and services, and economic stabilization according to Rubin (1997).

The final current issue worthy of mention is the addressing of ethics in the public sector. In the public sector, studies indicate that ethics are very fundamental in guiding the execution of duties by public officers. Frederick (1999) argues that “ethics are an accountability standard by which the public will scrutinize the work being conducted by the employees working in government agencies and other organizations”. In this regard, all public servants must be accountable for their actions to the public in general.

References

Berman, E., (1982). Human Resource Management in Public Service: Paradoxes, Processes, and Problems. 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press, USA.

Frederick, L., (1999). Current Issues in Public Administration, 6th Edition. Cengage Learning.

Osborne, D. & Gaebler, T., (1992). Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is transforming the Public Sector. New York: Plume.

Richard, C., (2007) ed. Democracy and Public Administration. M.E. Sharpe, Inco. Armonk: New York.

Rubin, S., (1997). The Politics of Public Budgeting: Getting and Spending, Borrowing and Balancing. 3rd Edition, Chatham House Publishers: Chatham, New Jersey.