Public administration may be defined as the application and execution of the laws, regulations, and policies which government imposes upon the people and the performance of the various public services which government provides. It is concerned with the actual work of protecting life and property, providing educational facilities, regulating business enterprises, building highways, maintaining welfare programs, and performing the multitude of functions which have become the responsibility of government. In its broadest sense, administration includes the work of the courts and the legislative branch of government, but the usual connotation attached to the word limits it to the executive branch of government.
Today, the subspecialty of public administration is the study of governmental organization and administration for the purpose of determining the precise consequences that result from specific organizational and administrational patterns and practices. An additional vital purpose to be achieved by the study of public administration is knowledge of the policy process. Social scientists are very interested in determining how policy is formed.
In the traditional courses in administration, the student is concerned with methods more than with processes. However, in an effort to provide a systematic basis in theory for structural organization, writers have sought to develop “principles” of administrative organization.
There are writers who maintain that a true science of public administration can be developed and applied. Some of their ideas are as follows.
Lines of responsibility and authority should be explicitly set out for the administration of the various functions and activities Of the executive branch. The line Of authority should run from the chief executive through the department heads to subordinate and individual employees.
Administrative units should be composed or created on the basis of similar functions and purpose thereby allowing coordination of activities and elimination of duplication.
Responsibility should be so designed so as to permit an executive an effective span of control; e.g., the number of persons directly supervised by a single official.
Administrative authority must be commensurate with administrative responsibilities. Staff services must be adequate so as to facilitate the efficient discharge and implementation of duties.
In administration and Organization coursework, the beginning student will be concerned with such concepts as hierarchy, functional groupings, span of control, staff assistance, unity of command, chain of command, centralization, decentralization, line and staff, and the ever-present problem of evaluation and efficiency. At present, we lack definite knowledge Of the precise consequences that flow from organizational arrangements, and we need information which will serve as a reliable guide.
In studying the policy process, the student of political science is primarily concerned with the terms and limits of a specific policy proposal, coalitions supporting it, legitimatizing by elected legislators, administrative application of policy with appropriate adjustments, possible court tests of interpretive matters of adequacy, and the legitimacy of the particular policy in question. Furthermore, the student must be aware that certain forces within the American System Of government place a premium upon political bargaining as a way to get things done. Diffusion Of power, social pluralism, and such constitutional structures as federalism and judicial review require, at times, emphasis upon hard bargaining rather than per- suasion, command, or competition.