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Article

The extent to which governance structures are centralized or decentralized is a key consideration for public administrators. While centralization and decentralization seem to represent opposite approaches to the structure of public organizations, the two frequently co-exist simultaneously in what is alternately deemed a comfortable coexistence or a paradoxical tension. Public institution reform efforts may call for increased centralizing forces (such as hierarchy, unification, and governance) or decentralizing ones (such as marketization, devolution of power, deconcentration, and diversification). Public administrators calling for structural reform are often driven toward either centralization or decentralization by particular sets of public values. Values such as accountability, power, and efficiency favor centralized governance, while values such as responsiveness, engagement, and innovation favor decentralization. Thus, the design of public administration structures and processes frequently exist as an expression of value-based norms. Both centralization and decentralization are associated with distinct advantages for achieving specific public value goals. Conversely, each approach has unique weaknesses that create opportunities for corruption. The pursuit of public value goals and the avoidance of corruption are two primary drivers that motivate structural reform. While structural reforms may be viewed as swings of a pendulum between two extreme ideal states (fully centralized or fully decentralized), a growing consensus in the scholarship suggests that centralized and decentralized structures are internally compatible and complementary. In other words, both centralized and decentralized structures frequently co-exist within the same institutions, often creating a dynamic tension between values. This creates an increasingly complex structural paradigm for the expression of public values. The result is that many governance structures appear to be evolving toward new models in which elements of both centralized and decentralized control are observed simultaneously.

Article

The notion of administrative tradition represents one way of discussing the issue of whether and to what extent a number of countries (polities/jurisdictions) have a significant array of traits in common concerning their public administration. The notion of administrative tradition may enable the pursuit of a range of purposes, like the framing of comparison for purposes of advancing knowledge and the assessment of capacities for reforming and change. The notion of Napoleonic administrative tradition can be substantiated by identifying a distinct configuration along four dimens(ions: an organic conception of the state, with limited role for societal, non-co-opted actors in public policy-making; a career civil service, distinct from other occupations, furnishing a general-purpose elite for the state; a predominance of law over management in defining the fundamental tasks of administration, and uniformity of treatment of citizens as a basic value guiding administrative action; and the preeminence of law and a system of courts in enforcing public accountability. Jurisdictions that may be ascribed to the Napoleonic administrative tradition encompass five countries in Europe (France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) as well as, more problematically, a number of countries which inherited the French model during the colonial period.

Article

Classic accounts of the relationship between leadership and public administration used to be straightforward: Political officials exercise leadership in terms of providing direction to government, and administrations implement decisions made by those leaders. Over the past decades, however, both scholarly notions and empirical manifestations of leadership and administration have undergone substantive change. While the political leadership literature continues to be more interested in such aspects as goal identification and definition, and the ways and means by which leaders manage to garner and maintain support for their agendas, the crucial importance of implementation in terms of leadership effectiveness has been explicitly acknowledged since the seminal work of James MacGregor Burns who famously defined leadership as “real, intended social change.” Conversely, public administration scholars have discovered the role of bureaucrats in the leadership process as important subfields of public administration. To some considerable extent, these reorientations in the political study of leadership and administration have been driven by empirical developments in the real world of leaders and administrators. In many of the established democracies, political leaders have come to realize the importance of administrative resources, and in some contexts, such as in the United States, it seems justified to speak of particular administration-centered approaches to, and strategies of, executive leadership. At the same time, large-scale reforms of the public sector have fundamentally altered the role of bureaucrats in the leadership process. While individual top civil servants, especially (but not only) in Westminster systems, have always exercised some leadership, New Public Management reforms designed to increase the efficiency of the public sector extended leadership roles across the bureaucracy. The relationship between political leaders and bureaucrats continues to display major differences between countries, yet politicization of the civil service in its various forms marks a strong cross-national trend. In some countries, the proliferation of special advisers stands out as a more specific element of change with important implications for the evolving nature of executive leadership. Such differences between countries notwithstanding, a broad empirical inquiry suggests that the developments in the political and administrative parts of the executive branch in many major democracies are marked by divergent dynamics: While there is a notable trend within the political core executive to centralize power with the chief executive (prominently referred to as “presidentialization” by some authors), the public bureaucracy of many developed countries has experienced a continuous dispersion of leadership roles. The implications of these ongoing changes have remained understudied and deserve further scholarly attention. However, alongside a host of conceptual and methodological issues, perhaps the most difficult and complex challenges to leadership and administration, both for political science and politics itself, relate to processes of internationalization and globalization.

Article

John Polga-Hecimovich

The bureaucracy is a central body in the effective functioning of democracy and oversight of the rule of law, and knowledge of how public agencies interact with politics and effect policy implementation is crucial in understanding the “black box” of the state. However, this body of non-elected officials can only fulfill its mandate and achieve good governance if it meets certain conditions, such as technical expertise, a clear organizational hierarchy, meritocratic recruitment for personnel staffing, as well as political support, resources, and the autonomy to devise solutions based on expertise. Unfortunately for Latin America, its bureaucratic agencies have seldom enjoyed these conditions. Instead, public administration in the region has been characterized by patronage appointments, patrimonialism, and a weak capacity to execute public policies. Yet this blanket depiction of the Latin American bureaucracy obscures a great deal more diversity—as well as the fact that Latin American bureaucrats and public agencies are more dynamic and responsive than they are often portrayed. To begin, the size and role of the public administration have evolved constantly throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, growing under statist development policies of the mid-20th century before shrinking under neoliberalism in the 1990s and again growing during the 2000s in some countries. Moreover, the quality of the bureaucracy to efficiently provide services and implement policy varies by country, over time, and even within countries among agencies. This means that there is also variation in the scope and quality of the bureaucracy’s chief functions of policymaking, regulation, and implementation. In fact, politicians and bureaucrats in the region have found a number of creative solutions to agency weakness. Moving forward, politicians can guarantee even better bureaucratic performance by addressing some enduring challenges, such as public sector corruption and an institutional setup that favors short-term policymaking.

Article

For a lengthy period, governments worldwide believed that civil servants should be linked to the authority of the state and could not be compared to employees in the private sector. This group of public employees were perceived as agents of the “Leviathan” (Hobbes), intended to uphold the rule of law and to implement government policies. In this conception, where the state was separated from society and citizens, it was inconceivable that civil servants could be compared to other employees. Towards the end of the 20th century, in almost all countries worldwide, reform measures have encouraged the change, deconstruction and decentralization of the civil service on all fronts. In the meantime, there are now as many different categories of public employees as there are different public functions, organizations, and tasks. Overall, the number of civil servants has decreased and some countries have abolished traditional civil service features. Moreover, working conditions and working life have changed. Thus, whereas for a long time, civil servants were very different from the employees of private companies, this distinction is much less clear in the early 21st century. Such a situation had been unthinkable 10 years earlier. Consequently, the traditional concept of the civil service as a distinct employment group and status is slowly disappearing. In addition, current organizational reform trends have made public administration as such into a somewhat heterogeneous body. In the early 21st century, civil services have become more diverse, less hierarchical and standardized, more flexible, diverse, representative and less separated from the citizenry than they were traditionally. Whereas the term “bureaucracy” had represented clear values (hierarchy, formalism, standardization, rationality, obedience etc.), new reforms have brought with them new values, but also more conflicting ones, and value dilemmas. Whereas most governments still agree that human resource management (HRM) policies should continue to be based on rational principles such as the rule of law, equity, and equality, the increasing popularity of behavioral economics and behavioral ethics and the trend toward the delegation of responsibilities to employees through different concepts such as engagement, lifelong learning, and competency development, illustrate that current trends run counter to classical bureaucratic styles. Moreover, digitalization and flexibilization trends are changing work systems and leading to an individualization of HR practices by facilitating the monitoring and measuring of individual efforts and engagement practices. Thus, the problem with this description of administration in the 21st century is obvious. Whereas the terms “bureaucracy” or “civil service” can be defined and broken down into concrete definitions, this is much less the case with the new civil service systems and new administrative models. However, stereotypes around public organizations and civil servants continue to survive, even though they were shaped in a world that no longer exists. Even in the early 21st century, many people still have the perception that civil servants work in an environment that is clearly separated from the private sector. Also, most public-service motivation theories start from the assumption that civil servants are different because they are civil servants.

Article

Ian Scott

Government organizational silos have been blamed for a multitude of sins. Yet they have proved to be resilient, principally because they provide opportunities for centralized government, political control over the bureaucracy, and the prospect of rapid decision-making, effective implementation, and support for economic development. But silos often also suffer from serious dysfunctions that impede smooth progress from decision to action. Their relationships with other government, private, and third-sector organizations frequently reflect inadequate horizontal coordination, a failure to communicate and to share information, and disputes over funding and jurisdictional responsibilities. It is instructive to compare how countries in Europe and Asia view government silos and attempt to deal with their shortcomings. Radical reforms in Europe have mitigated some dysfunctions by creating flatter structures, decentralized organizations, and improved horizontal coordination within government and between government, the market, and society. But the reforms have not entirely overcome the “silos mentality,” which may result in failure to share information and may affect implementation. Nor have European governments entirely overcome the tendency to reintroduce centralization and more rigid hierarchies when faced with problems. In Asia, silos continue to be a dominant and valued organizational feature of most governments because they are seen to have an important role in maintaining political stability and promoting economic development. Although political leaders acknowledge their weaknesses and there have been some efforts to improve horizontal coordination, particularly in crisis management, the macro-level public sector reforms that dismantling the silos would entail has not been on the agenda. On both continents, resolving the problems of the silos and finding the right mix between vertical and horizontal coordination remain major challenges.

Article

Hussein Kassim

Novel in both design and function, the European Commission occupies a central position in the political system of the European Union (EU). Compared to other international administrations in other international organizations, its responsibilities are extensive. The Commission is the principal source of EU legislative initiatives. It manages EU policy and processes, monitors the implementation of EU law, and negotiates trade agreements on the EU’s behalf. Though often decried as an “unelected bureaucracy,” the Commission is in fact a hybrid body. Whereas the services of the Commission form a permanent administration, the College, headed by the Commission president, is political. Members of the College, including the president, are appointed by the governments of the member states and elected by the European Parliament every five years, following popular elections to the latter body. The internal functioning of the Commission has attracted considerable interest, particularly among scholars of public administration and comparative politics. With respect to the Commission’s functioning within the wider EU system, the main debates relate to the role of the institution in the EU’s development; the extent of its influence over policy; its executive responsibilities and interaction with agencies at EU and national levels; and, in the context of a wider discussion of the EU’s democratic credentials, the Commission’s accountability. Few dispute the Commission importance, but there is considerable disagreement on how the Commission’s role in integration should be theorized and how the Commission as a body should be conceptualized.

Article

The concentration of power at the center of government transcends both political systems and geography. Heads of government everywhere are dealing with powerful forces from permanent election campaigns, social media, 24-hour news channels, the requirement to provide a government-wide perspective on virtually all policy issues, and the need to manage the blame game at a time when transparency requirements are becoming more demanding. They need help to deal with these powerful forces, to manage the policy process, and to direct the work of their government. They can turn to both partisan political advisors and central agencies to assist them in governing from the center. Central agencies stand at the apex of power linking the political with the administrative. They have grown in size and influence in both parliamentary and presidential systems and, in the process, helped heads of government to concentrate more and more power in their own hands. They have grown in size and influence because heads of government have allowed it, if not encouraged it. Central agencies play a leading role in generating policy advice, in allocating financial and human resources, in shaping human resources policies, in monitoring the performance of line departments and agencies, and in establishing regulatory policies that apply both inside and outside government. They have proven to be helpful in helping heads of government to define new measures, to coordinate activities to pursue overarching goals and to make certain that line departments and agencies run on their tracks. It is necessary to explore the capacity of the center of government from several different national settings and from several perspectives to exercise direction on policy and control over the rest of government.

Article

In 1999, Evans and Rauch showed a strong association between government effectiveness (quality of government)—particularly the presence of a Weberian-like bureaucracy, selected and promoted on merit alone and largely autonomous from private interests—and economic growth. In 1997 and the aftermath of the Washington Consensus controversial reforms the World Bank promoted this finding in its influential World Development Report 1997 as part of its broader paradigm on “institutional quality.” Twenty years of investment in state capacity followed, by means of foreign assistance supporting the quality of public administration as a prerequisite to development. However, most reviews found the results well under expectations. This is hardly surprising, seeing that Max Weber, credited as the first promoter of the importance of bureaucracy as both the end result and the tool of government rationalization in modern times, never took for granted the autonomy of the state apparatus from private interest. He clearly stated that the power using the apparatus is the one steering the bureaucracy itself. In fact, a review of empirical evidence shows that the quality of public administration is endogenous to the quality of government more broadly and therefore can hardly be a solution in problematic contexts. The autonomy of the state from private interest is one of the most difficult objectives to accomplish in the evolution of a state, and few states have managed in contemporary times to match the achievements of Denmark or Switzerland in the 19th century. Two countries, Estonia and Georgia, are exceptional in this regard, but their success argues for the primacy of politics rather than of administration.

Article

Crises are uncertain and disorderly situations, which temporarily destabilize power relations and impede centralized control over operational crisis responders (e.g., firefighters, police officers, paramedics). Consequently, responders wield considerable autonomy and have room to act on their own initiative. They make crucial decisions in frontline crisis operations based on their situational understanding and professional expertise. As such, they are similar to other “frontline workers” (or street-level bureaucrats) in government service. Their important work has attracted increasing attention in crisis management literature, in which three tensions have emerged. The first tension revolves around the nature and extent of frontline discretion. In some studies, these frontline responders are presented as implementers who are considerably constrained by extensive rules, planned routines, and detailed protocols. Other studies, instead, emphasize the independent and proactive behaviors of frontline workers who use their discretionary space to shape crisis response efforts. The second tension centers on the reasons for discretionary actions. Typically, crisis scholars analyze social and rule-based pressures on frontline workers to explain their discretionary actions as they implement public policy. Critics, instead, build on responders’ own stories to grasp their meaning-making attempts and use this as a basis for understanding why and how responders enact their discretionary practices. The final tension concerns the advantages and disadvantages of frontline worker discretion. There is a widespread belief that frontline discretion in crisis response enables much-needed improvisation, creativity, and flexibility, but increased discretion may also raise legitimacy questions and potentially burden frontline workers with complex ethical dilemmas. To move the understanding of frontline workers in crisis management forward, further research is required in several areas. Empirically, frontline workers are increasingly working in transboundary crisis networks, so that more research is necessary to understand how such crisis networks affect frontline discretion. Theoretically, literature on frontline work in crisis management has remained by and large isolated from other micro-level theories on crisis management, even though there are opportunities for fruitful cross-fertilization with adjacent literatures.

Article

In 1980 Michael Lipsky published “Street-level Bureaucracy,” arguing that public policy is often vague and imprecise, and relies on frontline workers to make sense of it on the ground in delivering public services. At the same time, the book is critical of frontline workers for not complying with policy in their use of discretion. Lipsky’s approach has influenced a great deal of subsequent analysis of public service provision, but continues to contain an unresolved tension at its core. If policy is vague, how can discretion be judged non-compliant against it? The street-level bureaucracy approach has tended to seek to resolve this tension by assuming that all public services are fundamentally the same and that all public service workers should use discretion in a particular way. While street-level bureaucracies—front line public services—are similar in that they are subject to policies, operate under conditions of inadequate resources, and afford frontline workers discretion in their work, there are also significant differences between types of public services in the ways they work with policy and the nature and extent of discretion of staff delivering the service. Different services do different things; the nature of the policy they work with varies, and the logic of provision and priorities vary between services. Policy, for instance, may refer to a precise set of instructions, or to setting out particular concerns or broad-brush commitments. Some services, such as benefits provision, are specified in detailed policy which not only sets out what they can do but also how decisions should be made. Others services, such as policing, are subject to a range of policies and concerns often expressed as conflicting demands that have to be balanced and managed in the particular circumstances of their application. And others, mainly human services, are primarily thought of in terms what the professionals within provide, and assumes a logic of service provision to be located in those providing the service. Policy is sometimes more explicit and discretion narrower; it is sometimes looser and relies more on discretion. It may, in some circumstances, be sufficient to refer to policy to understand what services are supposed to do; in other circumstances, policy alone provides a poor picture of what’s expected. Street-level bureaucracy analysis is too broad-brush and cannot capture the range of ideas of compliance in public services. It tends to equate policy with instruction and judgement with organizational thinking, and to see non-compliance as endemic in the use of discretion. In doing this, it fails to appreciate the variety of relationships between policy and public services; the varied extent of discretion in different settings, and the range of concerns and ethical commitments in different public services. Compliance in policy implementation needs to be sensitive to different types of public services and the subsequent variety of commitments and concerns of street-level bureaucrats in those public services.

Article

Gary E. Hollibaugh Jr.

Research in public administration and political science in the late 20th century and early 21st century has identified several factors influencing the effectiveness of political appointees, with a particular emphasis on the United States (given the outsized role of political appointees in the American system relative to those of other industrialized democracies). Within the American system, the advice and consent process means that acting and interim officials often run agencies and departments while nominees await Senate confirmation; however, that these individuals lack the perceived legitimacy that accompanies Senate confirmation means they are (often) less effective at ensuring bureaucratic acquiescence to the preferences of the president. Additionally, confirmed nominees can also run into trouble, as many are often appointed by presidents to “rein in” the departments or agencies they are chosen to oversee; this can result in deterioration in the relationship between themselves and careerists, which ultimately reduces the effectiveness of appointees. Individual variations in the leadership style of appointees in the United States can also affect their effectiveness and abilities to work with careerists. And scholars should spend time and effort considering the theoretical foundations of what it means to be “effective” and perhaps consider the development of new empirical operationalizations thereof. Accordingly, there is merit in assessing pertinent experience in other jurisdictions, including in Britain and South Korea to which brief reference is made in the discussion.

Article

Judicial control over the bureaucracy is a means to defend the rule of law and important principles of democratic governance. It refers to the power of the courts to consider whether the actions of public authorities respect the limits prescribed by law. Regimes of judicial control vary in legal and administrative systems. Two major traditions can be mainly distinguished. The first characterizes continental Europe. It assigns judicial review to specialized administrative courts and involves a special branch of law, that is, administrative law. The second relies on ordinary courts and characterizes the Anglo-American system of common law. The two traditions also differ regarding the role of the courts and particularly their possibility to shape rules (common law tradition) or to apply rules (continental tradition). The expansion of state activities, including economic and social regulation and welfare service provision, has blurred the old politics–administration distinction since more and more decisions are delegated by parliaments to the administration, endowing it with wide discretionary powers. These developments have added a new meaning to the implementation of the rule of law. When the content of decisions is bound by a legal rule, legal compliance is more straightforward than when there is a margin of appreciation and choice. Circumscribing administrative discretion passes first and foremost from regulating the process of decision-making. Procedural standards have indeed been an area of primary concern for courts. Increasingly, nevertheless, substantive aspects of the administrative decision-making process and even service provision come under judicial scrutiny. Its extent inevitably differs from one legal system to another. The intensity of judicial review and its impact on (a) administrative operation and (b) policy decisions raise critical questions: how is it possible to achieve a balance between managerial flexibility, efficiency, and responsibility on the one hand and legal accountability on the other? To what extent may the courts substitute their own judgment for that of policymakers and the administrative or expert opinion underlying the decision under examination? How far do they go in scrutinizing policymaking and implementation? Judicial control involves constraining as well as constructive effects on the administration. It may contribute to an institution-building process (e.g., strengthening of Weberian-type features, increasing formalization, etc.) and to the agenda-building process, and it may influence policymaking. In certain contexts, courts even tend to become political actors. The reverse side is that they may step into matters of management and policymaking for which they are not prepared or institutionally responsible. This points to potential tensions between the administration (the executive) and the judiciary but also underlines the limitations of judicial control. Delicate issues regarding the separation of powers may emerge. Furthermore, cost, delays, the degree of administrative compliance with judicial decisions, and the ability of courts to integrate into their reasoning issues of efficiency and effectiveness constitute growing challenges to judicial control.

Article

As a part of the policy process, implementation follows policy as formulated and decided upon. Three aspects can be distinguished as inherent to the term implementation. The first one regards the temporal order in which implementation in a policy process takes place. The second aspect concerns the causal logic, while the third one is about the form of authority. Policy implementation is looked at and talked about from two fundamentally contrasting perspectives. One can be called an “ideal” perspective, the other a realistic one. “Ideal” stands here for a use of the term implementation without further reflection; the phenomena the term refers to are taken for granted. By contrast, the alternative perspective can be labeled as a realistic one. This perspective is a construction as well, but instead of taking things for granted it invites for empirical observation and testing. From an ideal perspective implementation is viewed as following instructions. Implementation is seen as a separate stage, identifiable as such. Inputs are supposed to determine outputs, while authority is exercised in a hierarchical relationship. From a realistic perspective implementation is seen as practice. It is approached as a multilevel phenomenon. Results of a policy process are explained by a variety of factors and social mechanisms. Authority is exercised as based on various sources. Both the view on implementation as following instructions and its realistic opposite shed a relevant light on implementation and its place in the policy process. Each view can be found in the practice as well as the study of the policy process. In the expectations about national politics the view on implementation as following instructions may be more observed than the alternative view, while at the street level of government the opposite can be supposed. However, these concern empirical questions. As far as implementation research is concerned, the normative appeal of the assumptions underlying the view on implementation as following instructions makes that view still occurring. At the same time, these assumptions have been challenged rather fundamentally, both at a theoretical and empirical level. The opposite character of the two views has consequences for the ways implementation and its place within the policy process are understood, but also for the ways in which variation in the results of policy processes is explained. Ultimately, understanding and explaining those results are enhanced when an approach is adopted in which elements from both views have been incorporated.

Article

The historical development of American public administration has evolved through four eras: clerks, civil service, administrative management, and under siege. During its early years government staffing was very sparse. A gradual thickening of the government workforce occurred during the 1800s, which was the era of clerks. Some were one-person agencies consisting of an elected official with administrative duties; others were patronage appointments by the candidate winning the presidency (or governor or mayor) rewarding supporters with jobs. After the Civil War, Union veterans increasingly populated nonpatronage positions. The assassination of President Garfield in 1881 by a disappointed office seeker crystalized public dissatisfaction with patronage, whether in Washington or by corrupt urban political machines. In 1883, the U.S. Congress passed a bill to create a merit-based civil service system. This began a second era of American public administration, that of civil servants. The original law only covered about 10% of all federal employees, but it set the precedent for gradual expansion of an apolitical civil service. Presidents came and went, but expert civil servants were unaffected. The rise of civil service also necessitated having employees to oversee them. These apolitical and expert managers led to the new profession of public administration, a development that required not only qualified practitioners but also credentialed faculty to train them. The 1932 election of Franklin Roosevelt as president triggered a third era, that of administrative management. This was a term used by FDR’s reorganization planning committee partly because it connoted a high-level focus on the president’s managerial needs. The concept encompassed both line and staff roles. Line officials ran bureaus and were accountable to the president. Staff functions, such as budgeting, HR, and planning facilitated effective management. In the post-FDR decades, especially after the 1960s, there was a gradually growing backlash against his kind of public administration. This became the fourth era, of government employees under siege. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 epitomized it. Government was not the solution, he liked to say, government was the problem. Politicians now ran for office against government. Increasingly, the bureaucracy at all levels of government was viewed with hostility, an enemy needing to be controlled and reduced. Bureaucrats became the bad guys in America’s ongoing political narrative. After the election of President Donald Trump, a more ominous term came into use: the deep state. Supposedly, the bureaucracy now had a life of its own and could even destroy a president if it wanted to. Presumably, a fifth era of American public administration will eventually succeed this age of hostility toward all things governmental. If American history tells us anything, the outlines and themes of the fifth era will likely be surprising and unexpected. Nonetheless, government in a democracy will always need some form of public administration. No matter its precise outline, future public administration will likely retain the core values that government cannot be run like a business, that government’s purpose is to promote the public interest, and that public administration cannot be perfect. Mistakes will always happen, but these can be learning experiences for improvement rather than excuses for increasingly dysfunctional bureaucratic behavior.