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Basic Concepts of Public Administration


Public administration can be broadly described as the development, implementation and

study of branches of government policy. It is the management of affairs of the
government at all levels --- national, state, local. It is a branch of the wider field of
administration dealing with machinery & procedures of government activities. It is the
systematic ordering of affairs & the calculated use of resources aimed at making desired
things happen.

Public administration is carried out by public servants who work in public departments
and agencies, at all levels of government, and perform a wide range of tasks. Public
administrators collect and analyze data (statistics), monitor budgets, draft legislation,
develop policy, and execute legally mandated government activities. Public
administrators serve in many roles: ranging from "front-line" positions serving the public
(e.g., peace officers, parole officers, border guards); administrators (e.g., auditors);
analysts (e.g., policy analysts); and managers and executives of government branches and

The use of word “public” in public administration restricts the area of administration.
However defining the restricted area is debatable issue. There are two views regarding it:
a) It refers to the study of the government (legislature, executive or judiciary) or b) it is
restricted to the executive. In any case it means government. Public administration is also
an academic field. In comparison with related fields such as political science, public
administration is relatively new, having emerged in the 19th century. Multidisciplinary in
character, it draws on theories and concepts from political science, economics, sociology,
administrative law, behavioral science, management and a range of related fields. The
goals of the field of public administration are related to the democratic values of
improving equality, justice, security, efficiency, effectiveness of public services usually
in a non-profit, non-taxable venue; business administration, on the other hand, is
primarily concerned with taxable profit. For a field built on concepts (accountability,
governance, decentralization, clientele), these concepts are often ill-defined and
typologies often ignore certain aspects of these concepts (Dubois & Fattore 2009)

Some well known definitions of Public administration

L.D. White “Public administration is the direction, coordination & control of many
persons to achieve some purpose or objective”
McCanny “Administration is the organization & use of man & material to accomplish a
purpose. It is the specialized vocation of managers who have skills of organizing &
directing men & materials just as definitely as the engineer has the skill of building
structures or a doctor has the skill of understanding human ailments.”
Herbert A.Simon “ By public administration is meant, in common usage, the activities of
the executives branches of national, state & local government”

Waldo “ Public administration is the art & science of management as applied to the
affairs of state.”

From the above discussion on the meaning of public administration, it may be concluded
that it deals with the study of:

1. The executive in action i.e. public bureaucracy;

2. Policy making
3. Non governmental agencies like political parties, interest groups, mass movement,
terrorism etc, seeking to mould government’s action & behaviour;
4. Corporate sector, at any rate that of it which is dependent on governmental
funding; and
5. Both the process of administration & the substantive concerns.

International public administration

There are several organizations that are active. The oldest is the International Association
of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA). Based in Brussels, Belgium, IASIA
is an association of organizations and individuals whose activities and interests focus on
public administration and management. The activities of its members include education
and training of administrators and managers. It is the only worldwide scholarly
association in the field of public management. Visit their Web site at

Also the International Committee of the US-based National Association of School of

Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) has developed a number of relationships
around the world. They include sub regional and National forums like CLAD, INPAE
and NISPAcee, APSA, ASPA. For general information about these regional networks,
visit www.GlobalMPA.net.

The Center for Latin American Administration for Development (CLAD), based in
Caracas, Venezuela, this regional network of schools of public administration set up by
the governments in Latin America is the oldest in the region. Information about CLAD is
accessible at www.clad.org.ve.

The Institute is a founding member and played a central role in organizing the Inter-
American Network of Public Administration Education (INPAE). Created in 2000, this
regional network of schools is unique in that it is the only organization to be composed of
institutions from North and Latin America and the Caribbean working in public
administration and policy analysis. It has more than 49 members from top research
schools in various countries throughout the hemisphere, www.ebape.fgv.br/inpae.
NISPAcee is a network of experts, scholars and practitioners who work in the field of
public administration in Central and Eastern Europe, including the Russian Federation
and the Caucasus and Central Asia. Their English Web site is located at

The US public administration and political science associations like NASPA, APSA and
ASPA. These organizations have helped to create the fundamental establishment of
modern public administration. For more information visit the Web sites of American
Political Science Association, www.apsanet.org, and the American Society of Public
Administration www.aspanet.org.


It is widely acknowledged that the scope of the discipline of Public Administration has to
be wide enough to respond to the complex social realities of today. Major concerns of the
discipline are:

Promoting (public ness): In a democratic society, Public Administration has to be

explicitly 'public' in terms of democratic values, power-sharing and openness. This calls
for a new climate in the bureaucracy. Public Administration, in practice, has to absorb the
principles of democracy as an overarching form of the government.

Policy Sensitivity: As governments are called upon to play increasingly active roles in
times of rapid changes and social crisis, innovative and timely policy formulation
becomes a prime necessity in the government. This would necessitate a new preparedness
within the administrative set-up that had hardly any precedence in the past.

Implementation Capability: Effective policy implementation is going to test the coping

capacity of the governments in today's complex situations. Goals have to be clearly set;
planning, programming and projections have to be followed step by step; and project
management in all its ramifications has to have top priority in government. The strength
of the government itself would depend more and more on the administration's capacity to
deliver the goods in time and in response to the demands of the citizens.

Shared understanding of social reality: The capacity to cope with social and
administrative complexity can be enhanced by a deliberate policy of organizational
openness. The underlying assumption here is the administration needs to understand the
diverse interests and influences. In today's complex administrative world, construction of
administrative reality has to be based on the shared understanding of its actors such as the
men at the top, the middle managers, the employees and the citizens. The centralized,
insular bureaucracy does not fit in with the contemporaneous socio-administrative reality.
Administration as a learning experience: Shifting social reality and complex
environmental conditions impose certain rigorous conditions on Public Administration
today. Principles of the past or the administrative recipes of bureaucratic routine are no
longer appropriate tools for analysis of today’s problems & solutions. Public
Administration in modern time has to be proactive, innovative, risk-taking, and often
adventurous. This new, entrepreneurial zeal is expected to transform 'bureaucracy' into a
new kind of learning organization, more adaptable to changes, more open to new insights
and innovations, and more accessible to the clientele.

These are the major concerns of government in all democratic countries. In the
developing countries, these have added significance, as Public Administration has a
pivotal role to play in the socio-economic reconstruction of post-colonial societies. The
discipline of Public - Administration cannot live in isolation. It has to develop' in close
association with the dynamic social changes. As a body of knowledge, it must develop
explanatory strength to analyze socio-economic complexity and (assist in the ushering in
of a new society free of exploitation and human misery, poverty.

Some well known definitions of Scope of Public administration

Henry Fayol “Every employee is an undertaking- workman, shop manager, head of

division, head of department and if it is a state enterprise, the series extends to the
minister or head of the state – takes a larger or smaller share in the work of

L D White “ Public administration consists of all those operations having for their
purpose the fulfillment or enforcement of public policy “

John H Corson “ Public administration is the action part of the government, the means by
which the purposes & goals of the government are realized.

In view of various definitions of the scope of public administration , it is cleared that

public administration is concerned not only with the how of the government but also with
the what. The how is the process or processes, while the what is the subject matter. The
essential components of the public administration may be described through the famous
acronym PODSDCORB standing for planning, organizing, staffing, directing,
coordinating, reporting & budgeting.

Distinction between Public & Private Administration

Distinction between the public and the private sector is however, greatly influenced by
the. political philosophy of each nation. In the USA, for instance, the private sector plays
a very important role in the American economy and society. The public sector is in many
days dependent on the private sector for the supply of goods and services. Hence, the
tendency in that country is toward a blurring of lines rather than a distinct bifurcation of
responsibilities. In India, by contrast, the public sector is slowly emerging as the
dominant '/sector in the context of mixed economy. The steady expansion of the public
sector in India. 'if continues unabated, is expected to draw a sharper distinction between
the public and private management.
Considerations of general welfare should be the common concern of both public and
business administration.. At the other hand, Public administration an hardly ignore the
needs of, efficient management. Yet, the 2 types are basically different, as discussed

i) The major purpose of Public Administration is to serve the public hence general
welfare and, in specific cases, public satisfaction are the ends that public administration:
must serve. By contrast business administration is basically oriented toward earning
profit for the business proprietors. Inability to earn profit will soon drive a private
enterprise out of business.

ii) Public Administration has to operate strictly according to law, rules & regulations.
Adherence to law brings in a degree of rigidity & operation in the public sector.There is
always the fear of audit or accountability that acts as a.constraint on performance.
On the contrary business administration is relatively free from such constraints of law
and regulations. There are of course general laws regulating business, but individual
business firms have considerable flexibility to adapt their operations to changing
situations. This is possible because of their relative freedom from specific laws and
rules that abound in Public Administration.

iii) The actions of Public Administration are much more exposed to the public gaze. An
achievement rarely gets publicity, but a little fault hits the newspaper headline.
Organizations like the police have to be on their toes to make sure that their operations
do not incur the public wrath. This wide publicity is not to be found in business
administration, nor is it so very closely watched by the public and the media.

iv) In Public Administration, any show of discrimination or partiality will evoke public
censure or legislative commotion. Hence, the administrators are to be very consistent
and impartial in their dealings with the public. In business administration,
discrimination is freely practiced due to competitive demands. In the choice of
products and in fixing prices, business administration overtly practices discrimination
which is almost a part of business culture.

V) Public Administration, especially at higher levels of government, is exceedingly

cmplex. There are many pulls and pressures, many minds have to meet and discuss,
consultations go on in several rounds of meetings before decisions are taken.Activities -.
in open department have ramifications that spread over several other departments. By
contrast, business administration is, generally speaking, much more well-knit and
single-minded in operation. There is much less complexity in organization and
operations. The pressures are certainly almost non-existent.

VI) Public Administration as organization is thus much more complex, compared to

business or private organization. Any unit of government administration is 'tied' up with
network of allied public organizations and has to work in close interaction with them.
A private organization by contrast, has more compactness, insularity and autonomy of

VII) Public Administration has overarching responsibilities in terms of nation-building,

and shaping the future society. It is therefore, much more. Value oriented. Business
organizations have to follow the guidelines laid down by the public authorities.

Related study

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