THE ROLE OF ADMINISTRATION IN GOVERNMENT
CHARLES A. HOWARD
AMERICAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITY
Dr. Matthew Collins
November 25, 2012
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Where do you see administrative theory intersect your daily life?
There can hardly be any doubt that the role of civil servants in contemporary society is quite removed from the understanding of the role associated with the ideals upon which democratic institutions are built. Generally speaking, contemporary administrators play a much more independent role than the neutral, loyal and ‘implementing’ role of the bureaucrat that the electoral chain of command implies. Current expectations are that the administration plays a creative and inventive role in the political system. Studies have also shown that the role of the civil servant is by no means a unified one. Civil servants instead occupy many parts in public administration and their role is thus much more complex and multi-faceted than described in the classic policy/administration dichotomy (Aberbach et al. 1981; Ehn 1998, 295). This situation is evident in the development of public institutions in both North America and Western Europe, but the development manifests itself differently depending upon historical and cultural differences in the public sector’s development in the individual national context. (Poulsen, 2007) The dominant theme during much of the time in which Gulick wrote was that politics and policy considerations should be separated from administrative matters. Gulick’s own position was that it is impractical, impossible, and
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undesirable to make such strict separations. According to Gulick, administration involves the determination of major policy; the development and
adoption of specific programs; the creation of the organization; provision of personnel; authorization of finances; administrative supervision Gulick attributes two meanings to the word politics. In its vulgar sense, the word means seeking selfish advantage or advancement through the control of rulers, but its true sense points to the actions by which ruler’s control. The problem is that there in no objective way of distinguishing between vulgar and true politics, since the distinction lies in the motivation of the actor rather than in the action itself. Therefore, attempts to control the vulgar aspects of politics in administration run the danger of denying the true political function of administration. Efforts to keep politics in its vulgar sense out of administration have proven to be impractical. Prohibition of political activity in a system of checks and balances, results in a virtually powerless government that “can’t go wrong because it can’t go at all.” Efforts to eliminate politics from administration by setting up independent public agencies only frustrate efforts to establish an integrated government that is capable of planning. In sum, Gulick maintains that the old dichotomy between politics and administration has broken down, and he argues that a new doctrine should be developed that permits “the fullest possible use of the expert in an appropriate framework of political and professional responsibility. (Fry, 2008)
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Public administrative culture is changing to be more flexible, innovative, problem solving, entrepreneurial, and enterprising as opposed to rule-bound, process oriented, and focused on inputs rather than results.
The concept of ‘role’ needs to incorporate the notion of ambiguity, and a role analysis must incorporate conflict and change as essential concepts. This may be done through the linkage of some of the theoretical work on the notion of identity and...