This paper attempts a brief overview and critique of Nicholas Henry's Public Administration and Public Affairs, concluding with an evaluation. The purpose of Henry's book is to provide students of public administration with a thorough introduction to their intended field of study, and the method used is primarily historical and descriptive. On a particular issue, such as leadership and motivation, for example, he introduces, in historical order, all the main theories and mentions the key authors associated with each. Next, he presents the most current view (as of 1989), which may reflect a synthesis of the others, before giving his own view and proceeding on to the next area of consideration. A student is, thus, introduced to many different ideas and theories as well as being provided a perspective that is unique to the author. Theory is supported by real-world examples.
The sheer amount of ground covered, then, would make an in-depth criticism impossible. Nor can this author, a recent entrant into the study of public administration, claim to have the background necessary to undertake such a criticism. Instead, I will briefly summarize some of Henry's main points and then, drawing on my background in other fields (English, history, computers, business administration, sociology, psychology, philosophy, etc.) and my experiences (I'm a DoDDs school teacher, my father a GS 12 for OPM) to discuss some of the ideas that gave me the most pause for thought.
The book is divided into four main parts. Part I, "Paradigms of Public Administration," gives a raison d'etre for studying public administration and an historical overview of the field. It is the author's contention, stated early on, that public administration in this country is in a kind of "crisis situation," troubled by changes in society and technology and a growing public perception that government needs to improve. The second portion of Part I, "Public Administration's Century in a Quandary," traces the evolution of five different "paradigms" that have guided the study of public administration. The last, and current, paradigm, endorsed by the author, holds that public administration is an unique field tied closely to its parent, political science, enriched by the study of administration in general, meaning business administration, and drawing from other fields that study human interaction in general, such as sociology, psychology, history, and economics.
One debatable idea in this section is that government exists as an "interpreter of technology." The word "technology," here, is used in the broadest possible sense and would include such breakthroughs as the invention of bows and arrows and paving of Roman roads. As Henry states, technology includes (p. 9): "the growing complexity of society that has been brought about not merely by scientific discoveries of profound social significance, but also by the proliferating economic and social interrelationships that are associated with industrialization."
When a change occurs in technology, then, the role of government is to formulate a policy dealing with it, and it is its bureaucratic specialists who must help formulate the policy. Hence, it follows, according to this theory, that as technology advances and the role of technology in society increases, government tends to grow to deal with it. I find this concept of government wanting in several important respects. First, it ignores the fact the government does not typically dwell on the cutting edge of technology, as any trip to your local school's computer lab will show, nor do the technical elite typically enter government service. In other countries, such as Japan, in fact, an effort is made to recruit as bureaucrats not specialists but generalists. Instead, I would return to a conception of government that combines the political pluralist idea that government exists as an "honest broker" between factions and the displacement/concentration hypothesis that argues social events force government into new areas of responsibility not easily discarded, causing governmental growth. I maintain that the main function of government is as a redistributer of goods and services that the private sector cannot or will not provide, and that the "honest broker" perception leads the public to believe that those goods and services will have a more moral basis for their redistribution than the forces of the market. Technology I would consider only as it enables better and different goods and services to be distributed, and the growth of government I would attribute mainly to independent social events, not due to any "inevitable" tendency towards government growth. .
The second portion of the book, "Public Organizations: Theories, Concepts, and People," gives an introduction to theories of organization and their particular effect on public administration. The first chapter gives an introduction to systems theory, examining the closed and open models of organizations. The author observes that, while a government agency's behavior may be explained by both theories, depending on the circumstances, the evolution of government in the United States leads towards governmental agencies and bureaus more resembling the open system model. The second chapter of this section gives an introduction to the concept of organization theory and touches on a number of different aspects of this, including decision making. The third chapter, "People in Public Organizations," examines what people do and why they do these things in the public sector.
This portion of the book shows the need for theories explicitly written to explain human behavior in public administration, not borrowed from other fields. All of the personnel theories mentioned, except one, stem from business administration. These theories include the X (compulsion) to Y (inspiration) theory and leadership theories that including everything from a theory of leaders as "heroes" to leaders as nearly impotent bargainers. The one theory that doesn't come from business administration, the so-called "Garbage Can" model of decision making, seems the closest to explaining an actual governmental behavior, decision making. This model supposes that almost a chance occurrence of ideas, problems, and personality cause, under extreme pressure of circumstances, a governmental decision to take place. The business models do not provide much help in explaining the actions of governmental personnel because in government, as opposed to business, goals are never clear and methods of measuring attainment always in dispute. Even a college, the point of reference in "Garbage Can" model, can look at its balance sheet, its student enrollment, and job placement as some measures of its success. Thus, all these theories borrowed from other areas of administration vary, in a given situation, from "somewhat applicable" to "totally useless" in explaining governmental action.
The third portion of the book, public management, focuses on the management of public agencies and bureaus. The first chapter, on the systems approach, considers the question of whether a governmental agency, in fact, constitutes a system and examines some of the tools available for studying a system such as PERT/CPM, computer programs, statistics, systems analysis, and simulations. The second chapter in this section, on evaluation, focuses on the growing role of evaluation in government. While Peters shows many of the difficulties involved in evaluating a program in the public sector, this betters the situation of the 1960s in which almost no governmental program evaluation occurred at all. The third chapter in this section, budgeting, focuses on the history and current (1989) practices of budgeting, including Performance Budgeting, PPB, MBO, and ZBB, all of which, to some degree look, again, to business administration for their inspiration. Interestingly, I find little evidence of any kind of attempt to come up with a budgeting theory that is tailored for, and created in, the governmental sector, which may explain the chaotic nature of governmental finance. In the fourth chapter, on managing human resources, the author poses that personnel administration will have to rapidly evolve in order to meet the demands of a changing society. Specifically, Peters questions the existence of OPM, the Federal Office of Personnel Management.
Peters concept of a diminished or extinguished OPM bears examination. Peters argues that since the traditional mission of the CSC (or OPM) was to eliminate the evils and politics of the spoils system, this having been accomplished, it's now ill-equipped to deal with a changing mission that requires agencies to hire professionals in a particular discipline, uses racial quotas, and faces the pressures of unionization. I would contend this argues for a changed mission for OPM, not its elimination. In a government increasingly composed of specialists and drawn from a more heterogeneous country, it is the OPM that can continue to create a common core of experiences, course work, and, ultimately, instill something of a "governmental culture" in Federal personnel. OPM should expand its role in testing and placing personnel and also enter the field of training and education, including teaching courses in governmental practice and ethics. Further, I would argue that due to its experiences in the Voter Rights Details in the South, OPM personnel know more about integration and its resistance than any other governmental agency and should play the leading role in work force integration.
The fourth part of the book, implementation, concentrates on the actual carrying out of public policy. The first chapter, on approaches to public policy, concerns different theoretical models of public policy. The process oriented models, dubbed "incrementalism," tend to picture bureaucratic decision-making as slight variations on current policy while the "rationalistic" models show bureaucratic decision-making as active and based on long-term planning. A third model, favored by Henry, strategic planning, derived from the military, focuses on long-term planning at the highest levels with more pragmatic, "satisficing," decisions made at the local level. Henry, next, explores the whole concept of "government contracting" and government corporations because non-governmental bodies on the local level and Federal level deliver a surprising amount of governmental policy. Henry particularly criticizes the Federal government for its lack of attention to contracting and points out countless examples of contracting excesses. The government corporations, similarly, fall under heavy criticism because of their relatively unregulated nature. Henry then deals with the subject of Federalism, and he cites an increasing tendency towards centralization of control in Washington, accomplished mainly by means of budgeting.
I would single out two ideas of Henry's for discussion: increased regulation of "quasi-governmental" bodies and the centralization of government. To Henry, the solution to the problem of government contracting (mainly Federal) and public corporations (state and local) seems to be to bring both bodies under tighter control of the government. I would agree with Henry that, with their freedom to implement policy and their safety from the market, both these two quasi-governmental developments give a picture of how American government would operate were there not so many regulations and stipulations built into our system. While Henry favors an expansion of government control, which, of course, means an expansion of personnel, large budgets, etc., I would favor a reduction of governments responsibilities. Instead of making these pseudo governmental bodies more governmental, make them less. Let most of the corporations go public (as did Japan's JNR), and let the public purchase more of its own social services. Those services that the governmental must deal with, then, can, at less cost, have the full weight of the kind of regulation Henry suggests.
I would argue, against Henry, that, in fact, governmental decentralization is increasing as the states start to take more initiative in handling their own affairs. In part, this stems from the terrible financial shape of the Federal government which is making the state governments assume a greater share of their own problems. Five years ago, when this book was published, it didn't seem possible that the states code cope with these problems, especially debt, but this has been the case. The states also had to resort to creative means to accomplish their ends. Dr. Deil, who taught here last term, cites the fact that nearly every state now maintains its own embassy in Tokyo for the expressed purpose of attracting Japanese business, thereby increasing the particular state's tax base. It is this new spirit of enterprise present at the state and local level, not at the Federal level, that may lead to a genuine "New Federalism."
The final chapter of the book, though a part of Part IV, bears separate consideration. In this chapter, Henry advocates a bureaucratic ethic, after John Lock and John Rawls. The author thinks, basically, that each person ought to have the most rights available that would not infringe on another, that inequalities are justified only when they can be reasonably expected to work towards everyone, and that positions and offices should be open to all (p. 392). While this may seem like a reasonable way in which to make public decisions, I would contend that Rawls's' system, advocated by Henry, is effectively unworkable. The implication, here, is that there exists in most situations some kind of a "fair" solution for all parties, and this ignores the fact that in most governmental decision-making there are clear winners and losers.
Few situations work for the good of all. Consider the obvious case of a manufacturer of a chemical plant. If that plant is granted a license, certainly everyone with stock in that company is a winner as are the local taxpayers who will likely see a decrease in property taxes. On the other hand, neighbors of the plant, who see their property values fall, become the losers. The same can be argued of Henry's case of affirmative action. Granting unqualified minorities positions in the government makes them winners and also benefits their communities. On the other hand, qualified whites are surely losers, and the basic notion of equality may be put to question, in which case racial tensions arise, creating more losers. Further, I would suggest that the very idea that there is one "fair" solution is typically forwarded by a party that plans to use in order to secure a win. If the market place is dominated by exchanges (both winners), the public sector tends to create winners and losers.
I would propose, then, that in order to be fair, the government can only do the following: try to balance the winners and losers over time and try to minimize the government's involvement in society. The former conclusion would seem obvious. If Chrysler gets a governmental bailout in 1984, the government ought to be able to dictate some kind of a price cut for domestic consumers. If a new nuclear plant is approved in a residential neighborhood, the company ought to offer to move residents to another neighborhood or to offer them shares of company stock. The second conclusion follows from the first. Since nearly every governmental action involves creating winners and losers, the fairest thing that government can do is to restrict its operations at every possible level so that it creates as few win-lose situations as possible.
In conclusion, I have to generally applaud Henry's book. As a new student of public administration, it has shown me some of the major issues and theories in the field and given the names of the major authors involved. In addition, while I may question a number of Henry's opinions, the effect of this book caused me to think about some of the major issues that I will be dealing with over the next two years as I finish my MPA.
Henry, Nicholas. Public Administration and Public Affairs, 4th Edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.
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