Henry Fayol, while writing about administration, remarked, “The meaning which I have given to the word administration, and which has been generally adopted, broadens the field of administrative science considerably. It embraces not only the public service but enterprises of every size and description, of every form, and purpose. All undertakings require planning, organization, command, coordination, and control, and to function properly, and all must observe the same general principles. We are no longer confronted with several administrative sciences but one which can be applied equally well to public and private affairs.”
(Quoted in L. Urwick Foreword to Fayol’s General and Industrial Management, (London: Pitman, 1949)

E.N. Gladden also remarked,
The administration is a long and slightly pompous word, but it has humble meaning, for it means to care for or to look after people; or to manage affairs.

Thus in terms of skills and operation, there is very little difference between public administration and private administration, but the difference does exist in terms of the profit motive, legal framework, and performance of the two types of organization.


The Popular Idea of public administration is that it is bureaucratic, characterized by red-tapism, inefficiency, and inertia, whereas private administration is efficient and business-like John Gaus, Ludivig Von Mises, Josiah Stamp, Paul H. Appleby, Herbert A. Simon, Peter Drucker, etc., in their writings, have made a distinction between public and private administration.


  1. Ministerial Responsibility:
    Public administration is subjected to the political direction in policy matters. Minister lays down the broad policy outlines under which the bureaucrat has to implement the policy. Though operational autonomy is granted to public policy administrators, they are not responsible for their actions to the legislature. Minister is responsible for all acts of omission and commission of his department to the parliament. No such arrangements exist in private administration.
  2. Marginal Return:
    Public administration is service-oriented, with no correlation between income and expenditure. Most government departments are spending departments, and public utility services government often run at a loss. Private administration is profit-driven and remains viable as long as it earns a profit.
  3. External Financial Control:
    Public administration is subject to the principle of external financial control. People’s representatives control government revenues through the legislature. In private administration, finance is controlled internally.
  4. Uniformity of Treatment:
    Public administration should be consistent in procedure and uniform in its public dealings, unlike private administration.


“Government administration differs from all other administrative works to a degree not even faintly realized outside, by its public nature, the way in which it is subject to public scrutiny and outcry.

An administrator coming into government is struck at once and continually thereafter by the press and public interests in every detail of his life, personality and conduct. The interest often runs to details of administrative action that in private business would never be of concern other than inside the organization.” (Appleby 1945:7)

According to him, three aspects differentiate the government from private administration, namely, breadth of scope; impact and consideration; public accountability and public character.

As regards the first aspect, He says, “The organized government comprehends in some way, and it impinges upon and is affected by practically everything that exists or moves in our society. Its fullest possible understanding requires the wisdom of anthropologists, historians, economists, sociologists, the political scientist, the farmer, the laborer, the merchant, the industrialist, the banker, the politician, the philosopher and many more”. Private administration cannot claim this breadth of government.

About the Political Character of public administration, Appleby argues that administration is politics since it must be responsive to public needs and demands. He Hence writes:
It is necessary to emphasize the facts that popular political processes, which are the essence of democracy, can only work through the governmental organization, and all governments organization are not merely administrative entities; they are and must be political organisms. (Appleby 1945:18)

Although public administration has acquired certain distinctive features differentiating it from private administration, including its profit motive, legal character, nature of the operation, financial control, and monopolistic nature, the difference is minor in a present-day liberalized economy. “By and large,” writes Appleby, “those who do not normally and consistently feel a great interest in government will not be good prospects.


  1. Public administration is bureaucratic, whereas private administration is business-like.
  2. Public administration is political, whereas private administration is non-political.
  3. Public administration is characterized by red- tape, whereas private administration is free from it.


Political Direction:
Public administration is political, while private administration is non-political. Public administration takes place in a political context.

Absence of profit motive:
The absence of a profit motive in the public administration is another feature that distinguishes it from the private administration. The primary purpose of the governmental organization is to provide services to the people and promote social good.

Public administrators who serve in the government enjoy high status and prestige in comparison to their counterparts in private enterprises, especially in developing countries.

Public Gaze:
All the actions of public administration are exposed to a wide public gaze because the public closely watches its goals, operation, and results achieved. This does not happen in private administration.

Service and Cost:
Most governments spend more money than the profit such operation may bring. This is because its objective is welfare and social service. Hence we can say the deficit budget is a characteristic feature of public administration. Conversely, private administration income often exceeds expenditure, without which they cannot survive.

Legal Framework:
Public administration operates within a legal framework. The responsibilities of public administrators are fixed by a set of constitutional practices, laws, and regulations.

Consistency of Treatment:
A government official is required by law to maintain a high degree of consistency in his dealings with the public. He has to observe the principle of equality of treatment in serving the people. It is a legal obligation not to discriminate against any person.

Public Accountability:
Public accountability is the hallmark of public administration in a democracy. Public administration is responsible to the public, though not directly but indirectly through political executive, legislature, judiciary, etc.

Large-scale Administration:
Public administration is large-scale administration. It is said that almost anything under the sun is directly or indirectly under the domain of public administration. It is, by all means, larger than any big private concern in terms of size, complexity, and diversity of activities.

Monopolistic of Essential Services:
In the field of public administration, there is generally a monopoly of the government, and it does not generally allow private parties to compete with it.

For example, no person or bodies of persons are allowed to establish or perform functions related to public services like national security, foreign relations, law, and order, mint, and currency, as these are the exclusive fields of the government and thoroughly important for the community and polity to prosper.

Financial Meticulousness:
Public administration has to be very careful in financial matters because it is working as a custodian of people’s money.

Lower Level of Efficiency:
Efficiency is said to be the cornerstone of any organization. However, due to varied responsibilities, lack of effective control, less accountability, the involvement of a large number of levels, and job security of employees, efficiency has not been there in public organizations to the effect desired. When compared to private administration, one finds that the degree of efficiency in public organizations is at a lower level. With profit as the major motive coupled with excessive control and flexibility in personnel administration, the level of efficiency in private organizations is much higher.


Scholars like Henry Fayol, Marry P. Follet, and L. Urwick do not make a distinction between public and private administration are the undifferentiated members of the genus administration. Henri Fayol, for example, says that there is only one administrative science, which can be applied equally well to the public and private sectors. The following similarities between the two types of administration may be noted:

Both public and business administration rely on common skills, techniques, and procedures.

In modern times the principle of the profit motive is not equal to private administration because it is now accepted as a laudable objective for public sector enterprises also.

In personnel management, private organizations have been significantly influenced by the practices of public organizations.

Private concerns are also subjected to many legal constraints. The government is exercising much control over business firms through regulatory legislation such as taxation, monetary and licensing policies, etc. Consequently, they are not as free as they once used to be.

There is a similar type of hierarchy and management system, both in the public and private sectors. Both have the same kind of organizational structures, superior-subordinate relationships, etc.

Both public and private administration carry on continuous efforts to improve their internal working and also for efficient delivery of services to people or customers.

Public and Private administration serves the people, whether being called clients or customers. Both have to maintain close contact with people to inform them about their services and also to get feedback about services and products. In both cases, public relations help them to inform and improve their services to the people.

The preceding discussion shows that the distinction between public and private administration is not absolute. In fact, they are becoming more and more alike in many respects. However, it does not mean that there are no significant differences between the two types of administration. Waldo observes that Public administration is distinct because it reflects the peculiar characteristics of government activity and the public setting in which it functions.

However, in the current era of the emerging and growing liberalized, privatized, and globalized world, both public and private administrations have to complete in the same area to provide services to people. Here both are dealing with customers who pay for their services. In such a situation, it narrows down the differences between the public and private administration.

New Public Management, which has come into prominence recently, emphasizes managerial techniques, which are to be adopted by public administration for the efficient delivery of public services. But in providing public services in the field of social and welfare areas, there exists a difference between public and private administration.

With this brief characterization, it could be stated that both public and private administrations are placed in different environments. But these differences are more apparent than real.

According to Waldo, the generalization which distinguishes public administration from private administration by special care for equality of treatment, legal authorization of and responsibility of action, public justification of the decision, financial probity and meticulousness, etc. are very limited applicability,” In fact, public and private administration are the two species of the same genus, but they have special values and techniques of their own which give to each its distinctive character.

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