Meaning & Definition of Public Administration

Public administration is the implementation of government policy and the management of public programs. It encompasses the management of public agencies and the actions of public officials.

The word “administer” comes from the Latin words “ad” and “ministare” which mean “to serve” or “to manage.” It refers to the management of public or private affairs.

L.D. White“the art of administration is the direction, coordination, and control of many people to achieve the same goal.”

It is a specialized activity that focuses on implementing public policy, mainly through the executive branch. It is the field of study that examines how government policies and programs are designed, implemented, and evaluated. Public administration also includes the study of how political and economic systems interact with administrative systems, as well as the analysis of the role of public servants and the impact of bureaucratic rules and procedures on society.

It is a diverse field that encompasses various sub-disciplines, including public policy, public management, and non-profit management. Public administration professionals work in a variety of roles, such as government officials, managers, analysts, and consultants, and they are employed at all levels of government, as well as in non-profit organizations and private companies that work with the government.

Defining Public Administration

Public Administration is a field of study and practice that has been defined and redefined by various scholars throughout its history. Here are a few notable definitions of public administration from different scholars:

LD Whites “Public administration consists of all those operations having for their purpose the fulfillment or enforcement of the public policy.” 

Woodrow Wilson “Public administration is a detailed and systematic application of the law. Every particular application of the law is an act of administration.”

Dimock stated that “Public Administration is mainly concerned with the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of government. The ‘what’ is the subject-matter, the technical knowledge of a field that enables an administrator to perform his tasks. The ‘how’ is the techniques of management, the principles according to which co-operative programs are carried through successfully. Each is indispensable, altogether they form the synthesis called the Public Administration.”

Carson & Harris – Public administration is the action part of the government, the means by which the purpose & the goals of the government are realized.”

Simon – “By Public Administration is meant in common usage the activities of the executive branches of the National, State and Local Governments”.

Waldo – Public Administration is “the art and science of management applied to the affairs of the State”.

Nature of Public Administration

The nature of public administration is complex and multifaceted, and it is often described as having several key characteristics. Some of the main nature of public administration include:

  1. Publicness: Public administration is distinct from private administration in that it is concerned with the management of public affairs and resources, and it is accountable to the public through democratic institutions and processes.
  2. Bureaucracy: Public administration is often associated with bureaucracy, which refers to the system of rules, procedures, and hierarchy that is used to manage public affairs. Bureaucracy is often criticized for being slow and inefficient, but it also serves important functions such as ensuring fairness and consistency in decision-making.
  3. Policy implementation: Public administration is responsible for implementing government policies and programs. This includes developing and implementing policies, managing budgets and resources, and ensuring that government programs and services are delivered effectively and efficiently.
  4. Service-oriented: Public administration is service-oriented, meaning that it is focused on providing services to the public. This includes providing essential services such as healthcare, education, and public safety, as well as promoting the public good through policies and programs.
  5. Political-administrative interaction: Public administration is closely linked to politics, and it is influenced by the political environment in which it operates. Public administrators must navigate the political landscape and work effectively with elected officials to achieve their goals.
  6. Interdisciplinary: Public administration draws on knowledge from a variety of disciplines, such as political science, economics, sociology, and management, to inform its understanding of public problems and develop solutions.
  7. Continual change: Public administration is a dynamic field that is constantly changing in response to new challenges and opportunities. Public administrators must be able to adapt to new policies, technologies, and societal trends in order to be effective.

Apart from the above nature and characteristics of Public Administration, there are several scholars, who expressed two diverse views on the nature of public administration. It includes –

  1. Integral View
  2. Managerial View

1. Integral View

From an integral perspective, public administration is seen as a fundamental aspect of democracy, where the government is responsible for ensuring the welfare and well-being of citizens. It is a process that involves the development and implementation of policies and programs that serve the public interest. The focus of this perspective is on the public good and the role of government in promoting it.

This view considers public administration as a complete activity. It includes all the persons, from top to bottom, who have contributed to achieving the given objective. According to this view, administration depends upon the subject matters of the concerned agency, that is, its difference from one sphere to another.

L.D. White “Public administration consists of all those operations having for their purpose the fulfillment or enforcement of the public policy. This definition covers a multitude of a particular operations in many fields-the deliveries of a letter, the sale of public land, the negotiation of a treaty, the award of compensation to an injured workman, the quarantine of a sick child, the removal of litter from a park, manufacturing plutonium, and licensing the use of atomic energy”. (White 1958: 1)

Marshal E Dimock – Administration is concerned with the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of government. The ‘what’ is the subject matter, the technical knowledge of a field that enables the administrator to perform his tasks. The ‘how’ is the technique of management, the principles according to which cooperative programs are carried to success.”

2. Managerial View

From a managerial perspective, public administration is seen as a set of processes and systems that are used to manage and run the government. This perspective emphasizes efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability in the delivery of public services. The focus of this perspective is on the management of resources, the use of technology, and the development of policies and programs that are responsive to citizens’ needs.

According to this view, the works of only those who are engaged in the performance of managerial functions in the organization constitute administration. In this managerial view, the administration has the functions of planning, programming, and organizing all the activities in an organization to achieve the desired ends. Luther Gullick and Herbert Simon subscribe to this view.

Luther Gullick – “Administration has to do with getting things done; with the accomplishment of defined objectives.” (Gulick 1937:191)

Ordway Tead – “Administration is conceived as the necessary activities of individuals (executives) in an organization who are charged with ordering, forwarding and facilitating the associated efforts of a group of individuals brought together to realize certain defined purposes.” (Tead 1959:67)

Scope of Public Administration

Public administration is a diverse field that encompasses a wide range of responsibilities and functions. Some of the key areas of focus within public administration include:

  1. Budgeting and financial management: This includes the development and management of budgets for government agencies and programs, as well as the oversight of financial operations and the allocation of resources.
  2. Human resources management: This includes the recruitment, hiring, and management of government employees, as well as the development of policies and procedures to ensure that employees are treated fairly and equitably.
  3. Policy development and analysis: This includes the research and analysis of policy issues, the development of recommendations for policy changes, and the implementation of new policies and programs.
  4. Program management: This includes the planning, implementation, and evaluation of government programs, as well as the management of resources and personnel to ensure that programs are delivered effectively and efficiently.
  5. Regulatory compliance: This includes the development and enforcement of regulations and laws that govern the operations of government agencies, as well as the oversight of private sector organizations that receive government funding or operate in regulated industries.
  6. Emergency Management: This includes the preparation for, response to, and recovery from natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other emergency situations.
  7. International Public Administration: This includes the administration of international organizations and the implementation of international development programs.
  8. Public Law and Ethics: This includes the study of laws and regulations that govern the operations of government, as well as the ethical principles that guide the actions of public officials.
  9. e-Governance: This includes the use of technology and digital platforms to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government services, as well as the use of data and analytics to inform decision-making and improve performance.

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