The development of the classical model of administrative owes much to the administrative tradition of Germany and the articulation of the principles of bureaucracy by Max Weber.

The development of modern bureaucracies made possible the industrial revolution and the breakthroughs of modern economies. But at the end of the 20th century that classical model of public administration was challenged by what has been called the “new public management.”

This article will characterize the “traditional” and the “new public management” approaches to public administration. Both represent valid accomplishments in the field of public administration.

Great Accomplishments in Public Administration

Classical Public Administration

The traditional model of public administration rests in important ways on the articulation by Max Weber of the nature of bureaucracy: Weber emphasized control from top to bottom in the form of monocratic hierarchy, that is, a system of control in which policy is set at the top and carried out through a series of offices, with each manager and worker reporting to one superior and held to account by that person.

The bureaucratic system is based on a set of rules and regulations flowing from public law. The system of control is rational and legal. Max Weber described the role of the civil servant and the importance of hierarchical control in a bureaucratic system:

“To take a stand, to be passionate . . . is the politician’s element . . . indeed, exactly the opposite, principle of responsible from that of the civil servant. The honor of the civil servant is vested in his ability to execute conscientiously the order of the superior authorities. . . .Without this moral discipline and self-denial, in the highest sense, the whole apparatus would fall to pieces.”

While the system that Weber observed in Germany developed over several centuries, there was a parallel development of bureaucracy in other countries during the industrial revolution. This model of bureaucracy played a key role in the development of large scale enterprises, private or public, throughout the entire world, particularly the developed world.

In the US Woodrow Wilson contributed to the traditional model by arguing for the separation of administration from political policy making.

According to Wilson, citing as authority “eminent German writers”: “. . . administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices.”

Wilson was one of the main proponents of the politics-administration dichotomy, which has been much reviled by later public administration scholars. But it has often been misunderstood.

Those who dismiss the concept as obsolete take it as an empirical assertion about how administration works in practice: they observe that in fact, many high-level civil servants have an important impact on policy, and therefore dismiss the dichotomy.

The real importance of the politics-administration dichotomy, however, has to do with its normative implications: that is, the principle implied by the dichotomy is that elected officials and their direct appointees have the legal right to make policy decisions for the polity, and it is the duty of career civil servants to carry out those policies in good faith (it is therefore the moral obligation of the dichotomy that is important, not its empirical content).

Frederick Taylor made a contribution to the classical model with his time and motion studies and careful analysis of the role of both managers and workers.

His techniques and managerial practices were adopted widely in the United States and throughout the world in the early 1900s.

Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, was translated into German, and “Taylorism” was popular among German engineers before and after World War I.

Taylor’s principles of management emphasized tight control of work processes and careful planning by managers, and although his management techniques have been used at times to control workers to the point of domination, his original ideas did not necessarily imply the exploitation of workers.

The traditional model of public administration spread throughout the industrialized world. It ushered in the relative success of modern industrialized economies.

Guy Peters summaries the principles of the traditional model in the following list of its major characteristics: a) an apolitical civil service; b) hierarchy and rules; c) permanence and stability; d) an institutional civil service; e) internal regulation; and f) equality (internally and externally to the organization).

Since this traditional model was so successful in aiding the development of modern economies and Weber argued that it was the most efficient mode of organization possible, how could recent critics see it as old, outmoded, and inefficient, you might ask?

The answer is one of context and scale: in his historical context, Weber was comparing bureaucratic organization to charismatic and traditional modes of organization. However, bureaucracy is capable of more efficient organization than these other historical modes of domination. The broader point is one of scale and time. If one wants to coordinate the actions of hundreds or thousands of people in any sophisticated endeavor (such as those that governments undertake), there are few realistic alternatives to bureaucratic organization, if any.

Alternatively, if one wants a large scale enterprise to exist over a long time frame, from years to decades, one must organize it bureaucratically.

This does not mean that all elements of every large scale organization must adhere to each of Weber’s ideal type criteria. It simply means the general outlines must be there: hierarchy, continuity, files, etc.

When contemporary organizations are criticized for being inefficient, the implied comparison is with other contemporary organizations that sometimes work marginally better (not with those that use a completely different means of organization).

In contemporary times, the most obvious alternative to bureaucracies is a market system—but in market systems, large scale enterprises must be largely bureaucratic in order to exist over time (e.g. Fortune 500 companies in the United States).

Similarly, the exhortations to devolve or decentralize within government does not mean abandoning bureaucracy as a form of organization altogether: it merely means shifting some functions from a large, centralized bureaucracy to smaller or geographically separated bureaucracies.

As Klaus Konig points out, some aspects of the NPM are not incompatible with traditional public administration. And yet, a distinction must be made as regards this renewal movement between those of its components that are compatible with the bureaucratic administration, even where it has a classical continental European character and those components that extend beyond the modernist, detail differentiations of state and administration.

The idea of de-central responsibility for resources, for instance, is perfectly familiar to an organizational scenery featuring federalism, local self-government, departmental responsibility, formal organizations under private law, shifts of functions to external bodies, etc..

Therefore, the point of departure for the “new public management” prescriptions is not non-industrialized economies or non-developed countries. The NPM, rather, wants to improve fully-developed governments at the margins.

As we have learned from Russia after the fall of Communism, market capitalism in the absence of a strong system of business law, enforcement of contracts, and a regulatory structure can easily lead to lawlessness and the private use of force to enforce contracts (or break them).

According to World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, developing economies need: very good governance with a system of laws, a justice system that enforces the laws (e.g. a contract system and bankruptcy laws), a financial system with accountable financial institutions, and a just social system.

Without these prerequisites, economic development is impossible. Also, these prerequisites depend on a traditional form of public administration (which is not to say that NPM ideas are never relevant to developing countries).

One of the main concerns associated with the traditional model was the accountability of the implementers of public policy to the governing constitutional rulers: if a system of government has not yet achieved the threshold of accountability, the implementation of NPM techniques is risky and may be counterproductive.


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The New Public Management

The term new public management encompasses a wide range of techniques and perspectives. They are intended to overcome the inefficiencies inherent in the traditional model of public administration discussed above.

Robert Behn defines the New Public Management as: “. . . the entire collection of tactics and strategies that seek to enhance the performance of the public sector. . .”

The starting point is that the traditional bureaucratic structures that ushered in the industrialized economies of the 20th century may have been appropriate for that era, but they have reached a point of increasingly diminishing returns.

The large size and rigid structures of the traditional system are too cumbersome for this new era of instant communication, as well as an economy in which economic value is based on information and its manipulation, not industrial production.

Production is still important, of course, but it is increasingly based on information systems, so controlling behavior of workers from the top does not allow those closest to service delivery to react quickly enough.

Therefore, the new public management favors decentralized administration, delegation of discretion, contracting for goods and services, and the use of the market mechanisms of competition and customer service to boost performance: it aims to achieve accountability through the measurement of outcomes rather than accounting for inputs.

Performance measures will take the place of tight control from the top through rules and regulations; granting more discretion to managers to manage is necessary: if they are to be held accountable for their performance, they must have the flexibility to use their own judgment.

In the US, the NPM was embodied in the Clinton Administration’s National

Performance Review (NPR). The proponents of the NPR contended that the prevailing paradigm of government organization in the U.S. was established during the progressive era at the turn of the century and was a reaction to the negative effects of the spoils system (with its accompanying lack of competence and susceptibility to governmental corruption).

The progressive paradigm of government organization, they argued at the time, was designed during the industrial revolution. It was modeled on large scale bureaucracy with hierarchical control from the top to ensure responsiveness to law and adherence to policy, they argued

But they state that with the coming of the information revolution in the late twentieth century, the usefulness of the bureaucratic paradigm had been superseded by the need for more flexible organizations that operate in this profoundly changing environment of global competition.

The governmental reforms of the progressive era had been developed and elaborated so much that the rules and procedures that originally facilitated management had problems with innovation. The admitted original benefits of large scale organization prevalent throughout the federal government were diminishing. The originally useful reforms had been counterproductive for some time by that point.

To Guy Peters, the new public management includes a range of reforms that have been tried over the past two decades by governments seeking to improve the efficiency within their institutions and sectors.

The approaches of the NPM include more participation, flexibility, and deregulation internally, as well as the use of market mechanisms externally.

Perhaps the most dominant theme of the new techniques is the attempt to use market mechanisms to improve performance within the public sector—which includes privatization, where functions formerly performed by government are given over to the private sector or business organizations.

In the celebrated case of New Zealand, the government privatized state enterprises in the telephone service, oil production, insurance, post office, and air transport sectors.

In economies where the governmental sector is smaller and most sectors of the economy are already in private hands—such as with the United States—privatization has taken the form of the private sector delivering goods and services that are paid for by the government: “contracting out.”

It is argued that businesses act more efficiently than governments because of different incentives and greater flexibility, so contracting saves taxpayer money.

Donald Kettl summarizes the goal of the new public management approach as aiming to “Remedy a pathology of traditional bureaucracy that is hierarchically structured and authority driven,” and “root out authority-driven hierarchical systems.” Kettl summarizes the six “core characteristics” of the new public management approach as: productivity, service orientation, marketization, decentralization, a policy orientation, and accountability for results.

Thompson and Thompson observe that the new public management approach is: “borrowed primarily from the literature of business administration, calls for more managerial freedom to use resources, a focus on results rather than inputs, and greater reliance on the private sector for service delivery.”

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