Role of Public Administration

AdministrationOpens in new window of the state in the ancient and medieval periodsOpens in new window in both the East and the West was authoritarianOpens in new window, patriarchalOpens in new window and elitistOpens in new window in character.

Public administrationOpens in new window is an ancient activity common to all countries in the world that are practicing the concept of a Welfare State. The Encyclopedia of Social Sciences has described a Welfare State as a State which takes the responsibility to provide minimum standard of subsistence to its citizens.

In time past the State was a ‘Police State’; its principal functions had to do with maintenance of peace and security. Although a few welfare activities were also performed at that time; they were purely incidental or optionally undertaken.

Today, Public administration lies at the heart of modern society and touches the lives of the people from ‘the womb to the tomb’; which has witnessed the emergence of the “Welfare State”. In the modern welfare state the role and importance of public administration have been growing as the government agencies have become more and more numerous and their activities more pervasive and complex.

The fundamental roles of a Welfare State are to provide equality of opportunity to all, to abolish disparity between rich and poor and to raise standard of living. Prof. Ken, an eminent scholar, has opined that a Welfare State simply means any state which provides extensive services to the people. Thus, in a Welfare State, the administration permeates into economic, political, social and educational life of the citizens.

Modern public administration has usurped more and more functions within its scope. Besides law and order, revenue collection and security functions, it operationalizes a vast array of public laws, provides public services like post and telegraphs and transport facilities in cities and towns, and is the main instrument of socioeconomic transformation in modern societies.

The role and importance of public administration in the modern society may be analyzed under the following headings:

1.1  The basis of government

Public administration serves as the basis of government. A government can exist without a legislature, or an independent judiciary. But no government can exist without administration. As Paul H. ApplebyOpens in new window observes, “without administration government would be a discussion club, if indeed, it could exist at all”.

Public administration is essentially required by all countries—irrespective of its political system—as a machinery to implement its public policies.

From what we have observed, public administration is an essential administrative machinery that cuts across different political ideologies including capitalist and socialist countries.

1.2  Provides a variety of services in the public interest

Public administration is the mechanism with which government provides numerous services in the public interest. Government protects the life and property of the people by maintaining law and order within the country. If Public administration fails to perform this function effectively, the law of jungle will prevail in society. National defence is another function performed by Public administration. On the effective performance of this function depends the survival of mankind and national independence as well as the progress of social life.

In addition to the protective functions, public administration in the modern welfare state provides facilitative services which include transportation, communications, supply of power, etc. The public administrators manage public enterprises and public utilities in the interests of socio-economic justice. The welfare services provided to the people include education, health and sanitation, social security, unemployment relief, housing, welfare of the weaker sections, and so on.

How well we enjoy these services depend, in large part, on the how well they are administered. Hence, in simpler societies of early days good administration was important, but in modern complex societies good administration is essential.

1.3  Implementation of laws and policies

Public administration is the mechanism through which laws and policies of government are implemented. By carrying out law it regulates the behaviour of the people and delivers the promised benefits to the intended beneficiaries.

Even the good objectives of the policies and laws of a government may remain as mere paper declarations of intent, if the administrative machinery does not function efficiently and honestly. Thus, administration is the essential instrument for translating laws into reality.

1.4  Provides stability to society

In the opinion of Paul PigorsOpens in new window, public administration is a great stabilizing force in society. He says, “the administrative … ensures the continuance of the existing order with a minimum of effort and risk. Its fundamental aim is to carry on rather than to venture along new and untried paths. Administrators are, therefore, the stabilizers of society and the guardians of tradition”.

Administrators maintain social cohesion and harmony by solving social problems, and by settling social tensions and conflicts. In any State they carry on the government when rulers change every now and then. Thus, Public administration provides continuity when governments change in a country. It survives even revolutions and coup d’état.

1.5  Brings about Socio-economic changes

Public administration is a dominant instrument of social change and economic development, especially in the developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The developing nations are mostly traditional, poor, agricultural societies. They are anxious to achieve modernization of society and economic development and realize welfare goals. These objectives have placed challenging tasks on public administration.

The achievement of such goals requires honest and competent public administrators. An efficient and incorrupt administrative machinery alone could effect the desired transition from simple agricultural societies to modern industrial societies in these nations. In the developed nations of the west, the administrators have to use the advanced technological techniques to deal with highly complex social problems, as listed below:

  • Preservation of the polity.
  • Maintenance of stability and order.
  • Institutionalization of socioeconomic change.
  • Management of large-scale commercial services.
  • Ensuring growth and economic development.
  • Protection of the weaker sections of society.
  • Formation of public opinion.
  • Influencing public policies and political trends.

There seems to be an inevitable growing trend in the activities of public administration in the foreseeable future. The administration of welfare state has to plan for integral development of the personality of its citizens. Efficient administration is required to advance this progress and development, as well as to withstand the problems. Being the watch dog of civilized life, public administration has become a tool of change and reforms.

Reasons for the growing importance of Public administration

There are many factors that has contributed to the increasing importance of public administration in modern society. They are briefly examined under the following headings:

2.1  The scientific and technological developments

The scientific and technological developments have led to revolutionary changes in transportation and communications system. The inventions of telephone, telegraph, railways, and airways have made ‘big government and large-scale administration’ possible.

The influx of mechanical devices in the office administration such as typewriter, teleprinter, calculators, photo-copying machines, personal computers, fax and the electronic mail has brought about even more revolutionary changes in the ways and methods of administration. They have facilitated speed and made easier the management of big and complex modern organizations.

2.2  Industrial revolution

Industrial Revolution, consequence of the scientific and technological developments, led to the growth of large-scale industries and factory production, and overcrowded industrial towns. The factory system also resulted in such evils as capitalism, unemployment, exploitation of labour, health hazards, etc.

In the interest of socio-economic justice, governments in the developed countries were compelled to assume new responsibilities to set right the above evils. As a result, the tasks and importance of Public administration have increased.

2.3  Economic planning

Economic planning is another factor that has contributed to the increasing importance of Public administration. Modern states have resorted to planning as a method of achieving economic development.

Plan formulation and implementation require skillful and expert administrators and an elaborate administrative machinery. The new responsibilities have naturally widened the sphere of Public administration and increased its significance.

2.4  Wars

In times of war, Public administration is entrusted with the responsibility of mobilizing necessary man-power and resources for the purpose of war.

Certain activities acquired by Public administration during war-time may continue even after the termination of war. To give an example, the numerous controls and quotas on the distribution and consumption of certain essential goods introduced during the second world war time are still with the public authorities in India.

2.5  Natural disasters

Natural calamities like cyclonesOpens in new window and floods have also enhanced the importance of Public administration. In times of natural calamities, the public administrators take responsibility to come to the rescue of people affected. At such times the administrators have to act quickly in order to prevent loss of life and property. Besides, in the Third WorldOpens in new window countries the public authorities have to manage crises resulting from social upheavals like caste conflicts, communal, tribal and ethnic violence. This role also has enhanced the importance of public bureaucracyOpens in new window.

2.6  The rapid growth of population

The rapid increase in size of population of most nations; more specifically in the developing nations, has contributed to the growing importance of Public administration.

Population growth has complicated the problem of providing food, shelter, education, sanitation, and health facilities to the people. The growth of metropolitan cities has resulted in congestion, growth of slums, housing scarcity, insufficient water supply, inadequate transportation, increasing crime rate etc. Thus, Public administration is the machinery through which government is tackling these acute social and economic problems.

2.7  The emergence of welfare state

The emergence of welfare state in modern times has also increased the activities and responsibilities of Public administration. The welfare state is a social service state. It is a positive state. Its motto is promotion of good life for the people. In the interest of socio-economic justice, the positive welfare state acts as a protector, a dispenser of social services, a manager of key industries and banking services, and a controller and regulator of private economic enterprises.