LOL….we always use that line from Babe at our house, particularly when we’ve done something great – gotta stay humble right?

So I got the grade on my first paper back tonight……An A-! 😀

I was so not expecting an A- as a GRADUATE level student!! Especially when you throw into the mix that I didn’t have the full two weeks to prepare for this paper (my books came one week into it), and it was written the day that it was due.

And, when you add the instructor’s caveat

My philosophy of grading is that students start with a passing grade (a “B”) and with due diligence can likely earn a B+. Grades above that indicate outstanding performance, above the level that one would expect of graduate
students. Grades below indicate sub-standard performance. A B- grade is
considered a passing grade in a core course. Grades below B- indicate that the
student has not mastered the material sufficiently well to continue in the
program and require that the course be re-taken

it just makes it all the more sweeter! Whoo-hoo!!

If you’re interested in the paper…It’s my “What is Public Administration?” paper:

“Unless we know and settle these things, we shall set out without chart or compass.”
— Woodrow Wilson, The Study of Administration.

While the question of “What is Public Administration?” certainly is the “big question” for a program such as this, one will find that it is indeed a big question regardless of the context in which it is being asked. One need only type this question of interest into Google and see “approximately 538,000,000” attempts to answer it, (Google, 2007). If that is not convincing enough, perhaps one ought to look at the many studies, texts, and journals, in addition to the Google experiment, before concluding that providing an answer as to just what public administration is proves to be an arduous task.

To begin addressing the question of what public administration is, it would make sense to explore what a variety of sources have to say on the matter. Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines public as, “of, relating to, or affecting all the people or the whole area of a nation or state,” and administration as, “the execution of public affairs as distinguished from policy-making.” Put the two together and one would surmise that public administration is, in effect, the execution of affairs relating to or affecting the people of a nation or state. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. President, wrote that, “Administration is the most obvious part of government; it is government in action; it is the executive, the operative, the most visible side of government, and is of course as old as government itself,” (Wilson, 1886). In the first chapter of Introducing Public Administration, there are 20 different definitions of “public administration,” as defined by a variety of those representing the “public opinion,” (p. 1-34, Shafritz, Russell, & Borick, 2007). In the end, there are certainly common themes in these definitions, but are these distinctions a new “Tower of Babel” in the study of public administration?
Meanwhile, the quest to answer what public administration is continues. What is it similar to? What is public administration different from?

While many agree that there are some fundamental similarities between private, business administration and public administration, there remain other clear distinctions. One such distinction is in the allocation of power found in private organizations as compared to that in public organizations. In defining “public,” Wilson not only assumes the meanings earlier defined, but also points out the role of the public as the sovereign of democracy. That is to say, in America, no public administrator has but one boss to answer to – they have the entire people to answer to! And, the public is one demanding boss, as Wilson notes: “…this other sovereign, the people, will have a score of differing opinions. They can agree on nothing simple,” (Wilson, 1886). Another distinction between public and private administration is the level of scrutiny regarding organizational performance. In public administration, everyone is a stakeholder. As such, there is bound to be more media coverage of wasteful government spending than there is on the same spending habits of a private CEO, (deLeon, 2007). Yet another distinction is found in the level of control a public administrator possesses in comparison to a business administrator. More often than not, public administration is limited by legislation and policy – which require a majority vote of the public to change. This is no easy feat, nor quick. Business administrators, on the other hand, generally have a much smaller audience of stakeholders to sway when they desire to make a change. Public administration, while like that of business administration in that it “gets things done,” remains a different beast.

Thus far, it’s been hard to say what public administration is. One could say with confidence that it is a working definition, thanks to Alice M. Rivlin’s The Evolution of American Federalism, (as cited in Lane, 1999). In this article, one explores how the administrative branches of State and Federal governments have evolved, particularly after the Great Depression, and how, ever since the Reagan administration, Federal administrative branch has been in a fluid state of devolution, (Rivlin, 1992). Because of these trends of administrative change, public administration very well could have been one thing, became another, and is still yet morphing to mean something else.

In the article Public and Private Management: Are They Fundamentally Alike in All Unimportant Respects? (as cited in Lane, 1999), Graham T. Allison, Jr. (1979) discusses the wide divergence of “core elements” of public administration identified in two reports written in the 1970’s, saying, “Such terminological tangles seriously hamper the development of public management as a field of knowledge…These verbal obstacles virtually prohibit conversation that is both brief and constructive among individuals who have not yet developed a common language or a mutual understanding of each other’s use of terms.” Well said, Mr. Allison. After only briefly surveying some of the different takes on this field, realizing that the differences go beyond semantic nuance, I can’t help but agree with him. And yet, it isn’t quite so easy as to avoid these “tangles.” “Public administration does not operate in a vacuum but is deeply intertwined with the critical dilemmas confronting an entire society. The issue then becomes: How can a theorist reasonably and concisely define a field so interrelated with all of society?” (p. 1, Stillman, 2005). In the end, the statement I related to the most was one of the most simplified and concise: “Public administrators serve the people*.”

* as seen on the course discussion boards.

Comments from the instructor:

Heather, This is a good essay and says a number of interesting things (although
I didn’t like your conclusion much, as I’ve explained in a comment added to the
manuscript). Your strengths are a very good understanding of the material
suggested as resources, plus other resources you sought out on your own. You
handle concepts very well, too. Like everyone, including myself, you should keep
working to develop your critical thinking skills. For example, one of the ideas
advanced in the threaded discussion was that a purpose of public administration
is to serve the public interest in the sense of providing services and regulating activity, but at least equally important is its function in preventing the exercise of arbitrary power. Thus checks and balances limit efficiency to a great degree, and to the enduring chagrin of those who don’t like government. Also, discussions of the notion of governance as a partnership among sectors and of the citizens’ own role in governance would have been worthy
additions to your essay.