New Public Administration

Goals and Features of the New Public Administration

New public administration came at the height of the political upheaval and turbulence of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which Western societies especially the USA witnessed many social problems: disturbance, instability, confusion — and the like.

The conventional public administration with its pillars—economy and efficiency—was unable to give suitably response to the escalating turmoil and the complications that arose from the political turbulence. In the wake of this, reality began to dawn on some of the best generation of young scholars of public administration that they began to question their discipline and profession. Thus, a movement was developed within the discipline in search of a new public administration — one sensitive to and capable of solving societal problems that had gone unresolved in the decade of the sixties.

Some young generation of American scholars had gathered at Minnowbrook in 1968 and challenged the existing dogmas of conventional public administration and political science. These young scholars believed public administration should be value oriented and not efficiency oriented. This brought about the trend of “New Public Administration”, in which they lay more emphasis on values and ethics.

In the words of Ferrel Heady, “… the New public administration movement not only reaffirmed the breakdown of the traditional emphasis on techniques of administration, and stressed the obligations of public administrators to be concerned with values, ethics and morals, and to pursue, a strategy of activism in coping with the problems of society”.

The coining of the phraseOpens in new window new public administration was to some extent to draw a reflection of the spirit of the times, an expression of disappointment in the state of the field and a rallying cry for a new, changed, and presumably better public administration. Its biggest thrust was aimed at enhancing the role and capacity of the public administrative system to meet the challenges of, and to direct, social change. It marked a reaction against the positivist influence strongly in evidence following World War II, and reflected the reformist radicalism of the sixties.

The new public administration movement is viewed as a product of numerous conferences, works, and events, four of which appear as major landmarks:

  1. the Honey Report on Higher Education for Public Service, (1967) in USA;
  2. the Philadelphia Conference on the Theory and Practice of Public Administration, (1967) in USA;
  3. the Minnowbrook Conference,(1968) in USA and
  4. the publication of two works in 1971: Toward a New Public Administration in a Time of Turbulence edited by Dwight WaldoOpens in new window. Each of the above is examined in terms of contributions to the development of the new public administration.

In a nutshell, the following outcomes were revealed of the works:

1.  John C Honey of the Syracuse UniversityOpens in new window (1966), conducted an evaluative study of public administration as an academic discipline in universities of the United State. This study brought about the Honey ReportOpens in new window, which was submitted in 1967. It identified the following four problems confronting the discipline which needed urgent attention:

  • inadequate funds at disposal of the discipline (for students, faculty and research);
  • uncertainty and confusion over the status of the discipline. Thus, the urge to ask: Is it a discipline, a science, or a profession?
  • institutional shortcoming (inadequacy of public administration departments);
  • lack of communication between public administration scholars and the practicing administrators.

2.  The American Academy of Political and Social ScienceOpens in new window organized a conference in Philadelphia in December 1967, to discuss the topic ’The Theory and Practice of Public Administration: Scope, Objectives, and Methods’. Varied views were shared by participants at the conference. Public administration was viewed as an academic discipline, as a field exercise, and as a profession. Some defined public administration as administration in the ‘public interest’ while others made it conterminous with ‘governmental administration’. There was thus no agreed definition of public administration but there emerged a broad consensus on the following points:

  • Definition of the subject is as difficult as delineation of its scope.
  • The policy-administration dichotomy is erroneous.
  • American public administration as a subject of study should deal restrictively with US public administration.
  • BureaucracyOpens in new window should be studied structurally as well as functionally.
  • The training of administrators in public administration and business administration should not be combined since they are similar only in unimportant aspects.
  • Public administration as a profession should remain separate from the profession and discipline of political science.
  • Normative administrative theory as well as descriptive analytic theory in public administration is in a state of confusion.
  • A hierarchical view of organizational authority needs to be changed; administrators must view workers as “coordinates” rather than “subordinates”.
  • Policy and political considerations are replacing management concerns as the major focus of public administration.
  • Future administrators should be trained in professional schools; public administration courses should emphasize not only administrative organization and procedures but also an interdisciplinary approach.
  • Public administration has not been able to deal with societal problems.
  • While parts of public administration are capable of using scientific methods, others—which are the most important parts of the discipline—are not amicable to scientific treatment.

3.  The Minnowbrook ConferenceOpens in new window was the youth conference on public administration and it was this academic get-together which gave rise to what has come to be known as New Public Administration. Two critical factors emerged in the Minnowbrook Conference. First, the 1960s was a turbulent period overwhelmed by numerous disturbances and social problems, but public administration indicated no serious signs of tackling the social disturbances. This was mentioned by Waldo in his article on Public Administration in a Time of Revolutions, published in Public Administration Review in 1968. The second factor was the need to hear young scholars and practitioners of the discipline as public administration was experiencing a sort of generation gap.

Goals of New Public Administration

The goals of public administration may be summarized under five major themes: relevance, values, social equity, change and client focus.

1.1  Relevance

Public administration has traditionally been interested in efficiency and economy. The advocates of the new public administration movement pointed out that the discipline had little to say about contemporary problems and emerging issues of post-industrial societyOpens in new window and as a result, was becoming irrelevant. They insist that it should deal with such contemporary problems as urbanismOpens in new window, slumsOpens in new window, environmental pollutionOpens in new window, violence, riotsOpens in new window, labour unionsOpens in new window, strikesOpens in new window and problems of technology. The administrators must take an active part in analyzing these problems and suggest suitable remedies to them. In their opinion, empirical social science research is irrelevant, narrow and barren. A public administrative system should be based on identifiable social needs of a society within which it operates.

1.2  Values

The new public administration movement made clear its basic normative concern in administrative studies. It rejected the value neutral position taken by behavioural political science and management-oriented public administration. Value-neutralityOpens in new window in public administration was declared an impossibility and the discipline championed the cause of the disadvantaged sections in society. The champions of the new movement advocate openness about the values being served through administrative action. The new public administrator should be less generic and more public, less descriptive and more prescriptive, less institution-oriented and more client-impact oriented, less neutral and more normative, the movement stated.

1.3  Social Equity

According to the National Academy of Public AdministrationOpens in new window (NAPA), social equity in public administration can be defined as “the fair, just and equitable management of all institutions serving the public directly or by contract; and the fair and equitable distribution of public services, and implementation of public policy; and the commitment to promote fairness, justice and equity in the formation of public policy.”

The advocates of new public administration clearly state that the distributive functions and impact of governmental institutions should be public administration’s basic concern. The purpose of public action should be the reduction of economic and social disparities and the enhancement of life opportunities for all social groups inside the organization, they state. Writers like FredericksonOpens in new window take a bold action-oriented stance urging public administrators to work for the removal of the wrongs of society and openly side with the socially deprived groups.

1.4  Change

The new public administration is of the concern that public administrators should become active agents of social changeOpens in new window. To serve the cause of social equity is to actively work for social change. This is the motto of new public administration. The attack is on the status quoOpens in new window and against the powerful interest entrenched in permanent institutions. It does not allow enslavement to permanent institutions which become self perpetuating power centers of dominant classesOpens in new window.

The Minnowbrook participants explored ways of institutionalizing change and remedying the bureaucratic tendencies of big organizations. The movement that started at Minnowbrook has been criticized as anti-theoretic, anti-positivist and anti-bureaucratic. Its positive value lies in bringing public administration closer to political science. In fact, the movement has been successful in integrating public administration with the basic concerns of political theory. The client-oriented, normative and socially conscious public administration, as advocated by the new movement, is of direct relevance to the Third WorldOpens in new window countries where public administration is in dire need of basic, qualitative transformation.

1.5  Client Focus

The new public administration advocates a ‘client-focusedOpens in new window administration’. The advocates emphasize the need for administrators to be sufficiently interested in meeting human needs of those who receive government services or goods. In addition, they stress administrators should be active in sensing public needs and responding to them. The clients of administration should also be given voice in deciding how and when and what is to be provided. The administrators should show efficiency not in the execution of policy, but in the delivery of public services in a human manner.

The new public administration, therefore, requires positive, proactive and responsive administrators rather than authoritarian and ivory tower bureaucrats. The eminent author, George Frederickson, finds that elitist systems of public administration are unresponsive to the demands and human needs of those people whom the system is set to serve. Conventional public administration, therefore, according to Frederickson’s view, has to be restructured in order to be responsive to public needs.

Features of New Public Administration

According to George Frederick, the features of New Public Administration are stated as follows:

2.1  Change and Administrative Responsiveness

The social, political, economic and technological environment is changing rapidly. The administrative organization and procedures should be responsive to the changes that are taking place in the socio-economic, political and technological environments. In other words, there must be greater organizational and operational flexibility in the administrative system to meet changes in the environment.

2.2  Rationality

In public administration there is a good deal of emphasis on rationality as the main criterion for administrative decisions and actions. Here, rationality refers to the rationality of the administrator. There is a need for the administrator to consult the citizens regarding the things to be done, and also about what ought to be done, and also about who has to do it, etc.

2.3  Management – Worker Relations

The smooth relation between the management and worker enhances both morale and productivity (efficiency) among the employees. However, the main aim should be satisfaction of citizens with the performance and attitudes of the administrative employees whose morale and productivity would have risen due to the human relations approach adopted within the organization.

2.4  Structures

There is a need to adopt a dynamic approach to organizational structure. Structures have to be made relevant to the changing need of the environments. Appropriate decentralization of authority and modification of hierarchies of control and subordination, for instance, need continuous review so that the structure becomes relevant to the changing needs of the environment. Instead of sticking to the old standardized organizational structure, new structures such as small decentralized and flexible hierarchies can be utilized. These new structures prove to be more suitable for present day administrative organizations.

2.5  Education in Public Administration

Public administration is heterogeneous in character as it deals with highly varied and complex public affairs. No single approach or theory or concept would be adequate to guide action or understand its working. Hence, there is a need for the subject of public administration to be enriched by several streams of knowledge, concepts, ideas and insights.

In summary, New public administration showcases a deeper concern for relevant societal problems. It stresses ethics and values, innovation and social equality. It lays emphasis on human relations, a creative approach to administration and social change. The study of formal organization, its structures and processes is of secondary importance to the new theorists. The most important need of the time is to be responsive to the contemporary social and political issues and problems with a view to finding ways and means for their solution. And to have organizational changes to suit the changing times.