Public Administration

Breaking Down the Meaning of Public Administration

There is dual usage of the words Public Administration. They are used to designate and delineate both:

  1. An area of intellectual inquiry, a discipline or a study.
  2. A process or activity—that of administering public affairs.

While the two meanings are of course closely related, they are nevertheless different; it is a difference similar to that between biology as the study of organisms and the organisms themselves. Public administration as an academic discipline is a little over a hundred years old, whereas public administration as an activity—the context for which this study is based—is traceable to the earliest periods of human history when man started living in organized societies.

Public Administration is the management of governmental affairs; it comprises activities of all levels of government: national (federal)Opens in new window, stateOpens in new window and localOpens in new window. It is any kind of administration in the public interest which, in other words, has simply come to mean governmental administration. Administration of private enterprises is known as private administration.

Observe also the following definitions:

Different scholars have given variant definitions of the term administrationOpens in new window:

    In his own observation, Karl MarxOpens in new window defined administration thus:
  • “Administration is determined action taken in pursuit of a conscious purpose. It is the systematic ordering of affairs and the calculated use of resources aimed at making those things happen which one wants to happen.”
    In the words of J. M. Pfiffner,
  • “Administration is the organization and direction of human and material resources to achieve desired ends.”

These definitions, you might observe, lay stress on two essential elements of administration, namely:

  1. Cooperative effort, and
  2. Pursuit of common objectives.

Thus, Public Administration is the organization and management of men and materials to achieve the objectives of the state. This definition emphasizes the managerial phase of administration and relates the conduct of the affairs of any other social organization, commercial, philanthropic, religious, or educational, in all of which good management is recognized as an element essential to success.

The objective of public administration is the most efficient utilization of the resources at the disposal of officials and employees. These resources include not only current appropriations and material equipment in the form of public buildings, machinery, highways and canals, but also the human resources bound up in the hundreds of thousands of men and women who work for the state. In any given direction, good administration seeks the elimination of waste, the conservation of material and energy, and the most rapid and complete achievement of public purposes consistent with economy and the welfare of the workers.