History of Public Administration

This paper describes the history of public service by doing the following:

  • Identifying significant events and people who shaped the field of public administration.
  • Explaining how those events and people affected the evolution of the study and field of public administration.

History of Public Administration

Public administration involves the effecting of policies formulated by government for the purposes of serving the general public. It also involves the study of government policy and the implementation of the same for the purposes of readying public servants for working in service of the public. The field of public administration has a long history and has evolved over many years to encompass many aspects of resource management and organization in many societies. This paper elaborates on significant events and people who shaped the field of public administration and how this has impacted on public service.

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The history of public administration is ridden with people who have significantly contributed to the evolution of this field. Alexander the Great (325 B.C) and Diocletian (284 A.D) played huge roles in ancient times in the formulation and structuring of public administration. Alexander the Great is known for applying the tenets of line and staff in many of the wars he was engaged in. This helped him to conquer many territories and expand his reach and power. Diocletian was the foremost Roman emperor to lead through the employment of delegation and use of elaborate chains of command. He achieved this through division of his territory into different parts and installing different leaders to them directly on his behalf.

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Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was among the most prominent figures in the 20th century as far as public administration and public service is concerned. Woodrow Wilson served as the President of the United States between 1913 and 1021. Long before that, he had taken part in campaigns that sought to reform the public service extensively. While serving in the field of academia in the 1880s, he supported the public service reform by advocating for the introduction of public administration into academia (Goodnow, 2017). He led efforts against the old system that rewarded political losers by getting them appointed to posts in public service.

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Max Weber is well known for the formulation of the theory of bureaucracy, which is sometimes referred to as the bureaucratic theory of management (Shafritz et al., 2015). Mark Weber held that bureaucracy was the best way through which an organization and administration could be run to achieve efficiency in all its mandate areas (Shafritz et al., 2015). Principles of bureaucracy include task specialization, hierarchy of authority, formal selection of employees based on competency and technical skills, and expertise among others. Over the years, many governments and administrations have applied bureaucracy in their structures of delivering public services. The many organizational layers in a bureaucracy can be effectively structured though policies and rules to attain efficiency. However, the communication channels can be slow and lead to delayed decision-making processes.

The Pendleton Act of 1883 is one of the most renowned legislations in the history of public service in the United States. The act led to the formation of the United States Public Service Commission. It led to the abolishment of the so called “spoils system” which had been by politicians to reward colleagues that had lost in elections. In its place, there was the establishment of the merit-based system of employing civil servants. This system stated that political considerations would not be used to appoint civil servants, but rather competence would take precedence. Although its implementation was slow, it has grown to be one of the strongest pillars in public service.

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The issuance of the Executive Order 10988 by President J.F Kennedy in 1962 marked a paradigm shift in public service. The executive order recognized the right of public servants working in federal government to enter into collective bargaining agreements (Gitterman, 2017). Civil servants were granted the right to join organizations of workers and other workers’ unions. This was important to workers as it allowed them to join hands in common efforts to fight for their common interests. However, the executive order did not grant the workers any right to strike. This order led to an increase in the number of workers’ unions over the following years.

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 of 1978 significantly overhauled the administration of public service in the United States. It did this by abolishing the United States Civil Service commission and replacing it with three bodies: Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) (Boeckelman, 2016). The FLRA is charged with adjudicating workers’ right to collective bargaining agreements. The MSPB is in charge of hearing and determining appeals of workers’ who have either been disciplined or fired from their jobs. OPM formulates policies that are used in the management of human resources in federal agencies. In conclusion, it is clear that public administration and public service has undergone a lot of evolution over the years. The main purpose of public administration is to ensure better and effective service to the public. It is clear that persons like Woodrow and Weber significantly contributed to developments in public administration. In the United States, the Pendleton Act and the Civil Service Reforms Act have played a big part in evolving the field of public administration.

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