Bureaucratic Accountability:


C H A P T E R 1


Public administration is concerned with the management of public programs. Public administrators work at all levels of government, both at home and abroad, and they man- age nonprofi t organizations, associations, and interest groups of all kinds. The substantive fi elds within which public managers work range across the varied interests of government and public affairs, from defense and national security to social welfare and environmental quality, from the design and construction of roads and bridges to the exploration of space, and from taxation and fi nancial administration to human resources management. Though public administration varies tremendously in its scope and substance, those who work in public organizations share certain commitments. Among these, none is more important than a commitment to public service.

In this book, we examine the work of public administrators in many different kinds of organizations and defi ne the political and historical context within which public and nonprofi t organizations operate. We examine the commitments that underlie the notion of public service and the opportunities and constraints they place on public action. We exam- ine the many technical fi elds, such as planning, budgeting, personnel, and evaluation, with which public administrators must be familiar and consider the personal and interpersonal talents needed by successful public managers. Most importantly, we emphasize the knowl- edge, skills, and values that you will need to be both effective and responsible as you act in the public interest.

Although we introduce many different areas of public administration, we do so from a particular point of view that provides a unifying theme in our examination of admin- istrative work in public and nonprofi t organizations. This point of view holds that there is something very special about public administration: Your work in the public service is distinguished by its pursuit of democratic values, and this concern affects nearly every- thing you do as a public manager. As a public administrator, you are obligated not only to achieve effi ciency and effectiveness, but to be responsive to the many bodies that help defi ne the public interest: elected offi cials, members of the legislature, client or constituent groups, and citizens generally. This special obligation requires that you be ever mindful of managerial concerns, political concerns, and ethical concerns, and that you develop struc- tures and processes that take into account all three. The result is a particularly complicated approach to getting things done, but one that has special rewards. From service to the public, you may gain a very special sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction, one that comes from helping others and from pursuing the public interest.


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■ What is Public Administration?

We have already described public administration as the management of public programs. But to elaborate on this defi nition, it helps to know a little history. Happily, there is only a little history to learn because public administration, at least in this country, is a rela- tively young fi eld of study. Of course, people have been engaged in the management of public programs for thousands of years. (For example, imagine the administrative head- aches involved in building the Egyptian pyramids!) However, the self-conscious study of public administration is a fairly recent development, often dated to the work of French and German scholars in the late nineteenth century. Public administration as we know it today in the United States began as the study of government administration, and that study began as part of late-nineteenth-century efforts to reform governmental operations. Most scholars and practitioners date the beginnings of the self-conscious study of public administration in this country to an 1887 essay written by Woodrow Wilson (then scholar, later president). Although some have recently questioned the infl uence Wilson had on the fi eld, there is no question that his essay marks the symbolic beginning of American public administration.

Wilson’s essay was basically reformist in nature, and highly practical. It was designed to address the ineffi ciency and open corruption that had become a part of government during the late 1880s and to suggest certain remedies within the administration of government. Wilson argued that although scholars and practitioners had focused on political institu- tions (such as Congress or the presidency), too little attention had been paid to admin- istrative questions—the questions of how the government actually operates. The result, according to Wilson, was that it was becoming “harder to run a constitution than to frame one” (Wilson, 1887, p. 200). Wilson fi rst wanted the work of government agencies to be accomplished more effectively. He felt that such organizations would operate best if they pursued the private sector’s commitment to effi cient or “businesslike” operations. Wilson, of course, wrote in a period during which business, industry, and technology were devel- oping in rapid and surprising new ways. Like others, he admired the managerial philoso- phies that business seemed to be developing. Among these notions, Wilson particularly favored the idea of concentrating power in a single authority atop a highly integrated and centralized administrative structure. His recommendation of a strong chief executive has been echoed by writers (and chief executives!) even to the present.

The men and women who followed Wilson in discussions of what came to be called public administration were very practical people, concerned with reforming governmen- tal structures and making them more effi cient. But they were also quite careful to place these concerns within the context of democratic government. How might the principles of democracy, including such lofty ideals as liberty and justice, be extended throughout government and throughout society? Indeed, Leonard D. White, one of the most thought- ful of the early writers, commented that “the study of public administration . . . needs to be related to the broad generalizations of political theory concerned with such matters as justice, liberty, obedience, and the role of the state in human affairs” (White, 1948, p. 10). As we will see, a continued concern for operating effi ciently while at the same time oper- ating in a way consistent with democratic values marks the fi eld of public administration even today.

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Values of Democracy

Because their commitment to democratic values so clearly affects the work of those in pub- lic and nonprofi t organizations in this country, it may be helpful to briefl y review some of the key commitments we associate with democratic governance. The term democracy well refl ects its roots: the Greek words demos, meaning “people,” and kratis, meaning “authority.” Generally speaking, democracy refers to a political system in which the interests of the people at large prevail. However, it is clear that within these broad parameters there are many different conceptions of democracy. For example, at the end of World War II, representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia met to consider the “democratization” of Germany. Yet, it soon became apparent that the Russian idea of democracy was quite different from the Western view. While Westerners associated democ- racy with such ideas as free elections, freedom of the press, freedom of movement, and the freedom to criticize the government, the Russians had quite a different conception. For them, democracy did not necessarily mean government by or of the people, but rather whether government policy is carried out in the interest of the people.

Even today, the term democratic is used in many different ways by many different people. Yet in the American experience, there is general agreement that democracy refers to a political system—a way of ordering power and authority in which decision-making power is widely shared among members of the society. Or to put it in terms of control, democracy is a system in which many ordi- nary citizens exercise a high degree of control over their leaders. (In either case, the opposite would be an oligarchy, government by the few, or an autocracy, government by one.)

But democracy is defi ned not only in terms of processes or procedures (for example, rule by many), but also by several important cultural values that are typically pursued in a democratic society. Among these, three—individualism, equality, and liberty—have been of special importance to those who have helped shape the American idea of democracy. The fi rst is individualism, the idea that the dignity and integrity of the individual is of supreme importance. Individualism suggests that achieving the fullest potential of each individual is the best measure of the success of our political system. It is the idea of individualism that is refl ected in the familiar phrasing of the Declaration of Independence—that all persons are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that it is the purpose of government to secure those rights.

Second is the idea of equality, which does not mean that all persons are equal in their talents or possessions, but that each individual has an equal claim to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In this view, each person should be seen as an end, not as a means; no one should be a mere tool of another. Moreover, equality in the fi eld of government would suggest that differences in wealth or position are not suffi cient reasons for giving one group preference over another. In a democracy, each one has an equal claim to the attention of the system and should be able to expect just outcomes.

A third central value of a democratic society is liberty, or freedom. This idea suggests that the individual citizen of a democracy should have a high degree of self-determination. You should have the maximum opportunity to select your own purposes in life and to choose the means to accomplish them. Liberty is more than just the absence of constraints; it suggests the freedom to act positively in pursuit of one’s own ends. Only by allowing individuals the freedom to choose, it is argued, will social progress occur.

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The infl uence of these themes on the development of public administration is undeniable. Though, as we will see, people differ over the degree to which they infl uence the day-to-day operations of public agencies. Similarly, the way in which democracy has been operational- ized in the American political tradition has had important infl uences on the operation of public organizations. For example, take the traditional separation of legislative, executive, and judicial functions. Although, the primary task of the legislative branch is to make policy through the enactment of legislation, the primary task of the executive branch is the faith- ful execution or implementation of policy, and the primary task of the judicial branch is the interpretation of the law, especially as it relates to constitutional guarantees.

David Rosenbloom of American University has argued that these three functions of government are related to three views of the role of public administrators in American society (Rosenbloom, 1993, p. 15). 1. The managerial approach to public administration, which Rosenbloom connects to

the executive function, emphasizes the management and organization of public orga- nizations. As with Wilson, this view sometimes suggests that management in the pub- lic sector is very much like that in the private sector; that is, it is primarily concerned with effi ciency.

2. The political approach to public administration, related to the legislative function in government, is more concerned about ensuring constitutional safeguards, such as those already mentioned. Effi ciency becomes less a concern than effectiveness or responsiveness.

3. Finally, the legal approach to public administration, related to the judicial function, emphasizes the administrator’s role in applying and enforcing the law in specifi c situ- ations. It is also concerned with the adjudicatory role of public organizations.

While we will examine these various approaches in more detail as we move through the book, it is important to understand at the outset that all actions of public administrators take place within an important political context: a commitment to democratic ideals and practices. Yet, today, that ideal is somewhat tarnished. Americans’ trust in government has been steadily declining over the last several decades. Questions are being raised not only about the quality and productivity of government, but about the responsiveness of govern- ment to the people (see Box 1.1). This tension will be a persistent theme as we examine contemporary approaches to the study and practice of public administration. Borrowing a phrase from earlier times, the task of public administrators today is still to “make democ- racy suitable for modern conditions.” Doing so in a time of confusion and mistrust will be a special challenge to those in public administration as we move through the twenty-fi rst century. Keep this in mind as we examine the various approaches and techniques that are appropriate to public administration today.

Contrasting Business and Public Administration

One issue, however, deserves further comment up front. Even though work in public and nonprofi t organizations is guided by commitments to democratic ideals, it is also involved with management, and, for that reason, public administration is often confused with business management. Indeed, such confusion has occasionally been prominent in the

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fi eld of public administration. (As we have already seen, early writers in the fi eld often suggested that government should become more like business, a sentiment heard even today.) Certainly, there are some similarities between business and public administration. Managers across all sectors—public, private, and nonprofi t—are involved in questions of organizational design, the allocation of scarce resources, and the management of people. But most observers would agree that the primary distinction between business and public service is that business is primarily concerned with making a profi t, while public service is concerned with delivering services or regulating individual or group behavior in the public interest. All would agree that the context of public and nonprofi t management signifi – cantly alters the work itself. Three differences are most apparent.

Ambiguity One difference between government and business lies in the purposes to be served. In most businesses, even those with service objectives, the bottom-line profi t is the basic measure of evaluating how good a job the organization is doing. In turn, the performance of individual managers can, in many cases, be directly measured in terms of their unit’s contribution to the overall profi t of the company. This is not true of public or

BOX 1.1


The predominant American political belief—attained, pretended, or otherwise—from before the establishment of the Republic and throughout the nation’s history has been the democratic dream, nominally based on some version of popular representation and governance. Virtually every political structure and reform has been predicated on some mode of the democratic, egali- tarian ethos, even as they oscillated back and forth between its Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian poles. Indeed, to imagine a widespread domestic political movement (and probably foreign policy initiative) that does not in some very visible manner drape itself in the sacred vestment of democracy is inconceivable.

It is this ambience that American political philosophies, politics themselves, and even certain professions (e.g., public administration) were created and nurtured.

Not surprisingly, public service and public administration in the United States have shared a similar democratic coloration. From the early days of the professional public administrator— when Woodrow Wilson temporarily partitioned “politics” and “administration” into separate entities—we fi nd a solid stream of democratic theory underpinning and underlining contempo- rary public administration.

But the Constitution cannot serve as a singular political poultice for whatever ails the body politic. Within the country at large, there is a tangible sense that as often appeals are made to the nation’s democratic benchmarks, these are more calls to a fading faith than references to reality. Americans are apparently disenchanted with their politics, both in terms of substance and process. Our public life is rife with discontent. Americans do not believe they have much to say about how they are governed and do not trust government to do the right thing.

SOURCE: Reprinted by permission from Democracy and the Policy Sciences by Peter deLeon, State University of New York Press, © 1997, State University of New York. All rights reserved.

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nonprofi t agencies, where the objectives of the organization may be more ambiguous and where making or losing money is not the main criterion for success or failure.

Often the objectives of public and nonprofi t organizations are stated in terms of service; for example, an agency’s mission may be to protect the quality of the environment or to provide an adequate level of rehabilitative services to the disabled. Yet, such service

objectives are much harder to specify and to measure. What does “quality” mean with respect to the environment? What level of service to the disabled is “adequate”? The dif- fi culty of specifying objectives such as these makes it harder to assess the performance of government agencies and, in turn, their managers. Moreover, most businesses wouldn’t tolerate a money-losing operation in a depressed area, but a public or nonprofi t organi- zation, though equally attentive to the money being spent, might well consider meeting human needs more important than the fi nancial “bottom line.”

Pluralistic Decision Making A second difference between work in the public service and in business is that the public service, at least in a democratic society, requires that many groups and individuals have access to the decision process. As a result, decisions that might be made rapidly by one individual or a small group in a business might, in a public or nonprofi t organization, require input from many diverse groups and organizations. Consequently, it is diffi cult to speak of specifi c decision centers in government. W. Michael Blumenthal, a business executive who became secretary of the treasury in the Carter administration, described the situation this way:

If the President said to me, you develop [an economic policy toward Japan], Mike, the moment that becomes known there are innumerable interest groups that begin to play a role. The House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and every member on them and every staff member has an opinion and seeks to exert infl uence. Also, the Foreign Relations Committee, the oversight committees, and then the interest groups, business, the unions, the State Department, the Commerce Department, OMB, Council of Economic Advisers, and not only the top people, but all their staff people, not to speak of the President’s staff and the entire press. (Blumenthal, 1983, p. 30)

The pluralistic nature of public decision making has led many business executives who have worked in the public or nonprofi t sectors to comment that this feature makes public and nonprofi t management much more diffi cult than management in the private sector. But, as Blumenthal points out, “the diversity of interests seeking to affect policy is the nature and essence of democratic government” (Blumenthal, 1983, pp. 30–31). Many have also found that this aspect of public service is particularly challenging and rewarding.

Visibility Finally, managers in public and nonprofi t organizations seem to operate with much greater visibility than their counterparts in industry. The public service in a democratic society is subject to constant scrutiny by both the press and the public. The media seems to cover everything you do, and this may be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, media coverage enables the leaders of the organization to communicate rapidly to external and internal audiences. On the other hand, the media’s constant scrutiny of policy positions and

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their labeling of inconsistencies as weaknesses can be limiting to free discussion of issues in their formulation stage. And, of course, the occasional intrusions of the press into even the most mundane personal matters can be excessive; one local newspaper even reported a problem a new city manager was having with his refrigerator! Yet, executives in government realize that it is essential to a democratic society that their work be visible to the public and subject to the interest and control of the citizenry.

Thinking about Public Administration Today

With this background, we can now think more carefully about how the fi eld of public administration has traditionally been described and how we might develop an action ori- entation toward the study of public administration. In terms of defi nition, many early writers spoke of administration as a function of government, something that occurred in many shapes and forms throughout government. There were obviously administrative activities performed in the executive branch, but there were also administrative functions performed in the legislative and judicial branches. Some even noted that from time to time any single offi cial might engage in both legislative and administrative functions.

Somewhat later, public administration was viewed as merely concerned with the activi- ties of the executive agencies of government. In the words of an early text, public adminis- tration is concerned with the “operations of the administrative branch only” (Willoughby, 1927, p. 1). By the 1950s, such a perspective was so fi rmly entrenched that the leading text of that period stated, “By public administration is meant, in common usage, the activities of the executive branches of national, state, and local governments; independent boards and commissions set up by Congress and state legislatures; government corporations; and certain other agencies of a specialized character” (Simon et al., 1950, p. 7). Modern defi ni- tions of public administration have returned to the traditional view, including attention to administrative offi cials in all branches of government and even focusing on those in nonprofi t organizations.

For our purposes, a formal defi nition of the fi eld may be less important than trying to discover how public administration is experienced by those in the “real world.” Our com- mitment to an action orientation suggests that we try to determine the kinds of activities engaged in by public administrators and the environmental factors that help to shape their work. We have already seen how the ambiguity of service objectives, the pluralistic nature of governmental decision making, and the visibility of management in the public and nonprofi t

What is Public Administration? 7

You have just been appointed city manager of a city of 30,000 in the upper Midwest. While the economy of the area is generally stable, there is talk of one of the area’s major industrial fi rms moving out. On the other hand, that fi rm has been a persistent contributor to pollution in the area. The city council seems evenly divided on whether to make an effort to keep the fi rm and its jobs or simply let it go. In your fi rst six months on the job, what would you do?

What Would You Do?

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sectors create a context in which managerial work is signifi cantly different from that in other settings. From the standpoint of the real-world administrator, the things that really make the difference in the way you operate are not whether you are employed by a government agency, but whether you work under circumstances that feature an ambiguity of objectives, a multiplicity of decision centers, and high public visibility.

Publicness These features in turn all derive from the simple fact that the public or nonprofi t manager is pursuing public purposes. In terms of the actions and experiences of the public administrator, therefore, we may say that it is the “publicness” of the work of the public or nonprofi t manager that distinguishes public administration from other similar activities. This view of the administrator’s role suggests that, as a public or nonprofi t manager, you must operate with one eye toward managerial effectiveness and the other toward the desires and demands of the public. It recognizes that you are likely to experience an inevitable tension between effi ciency and responsiveness as you work in governmental or nongovernmental organizations, a tension that will be absolutely central to your work.

Let us highlight some of the implications of this orientation. Many commentators point out that the distinction between public and private management is no longer simply a distinction between business and government or between profi t and service. In fact, more and more frequently, we encounter situations in which traditionally public organizations are pursuing enhanced revenues (profi ts?), and traditionally private orga- nizations are concerned with the provision of services. What is important is not merely what is being sought, but rather whose interest is being served. On this basis, a private enterprise is one in which private interests privately arrived at are paramount. A public organization, on the other hand, is one in which public interests publicly arrived at are paramount.

There is a trend in our society for greater openness and responsiveness on the part of many organizations. Most associations and nonprofi t organizations would fi t this mold, and managers in those organizations must certainly be attentive to both effi ciency and responsiveness. But many corporations as well are fi nding it important to open their decision-making processes to public scrutiny and involvement. The range of organizations engaged in the public service (and the applicability of public and nonprofi t management) seems ever-increasing.

The leading national organization for those in the fi eld of public administration is the American Society for Public Administration. See www.aspanet.org. Other related organizations with helpful websites include the National Academy of Public Administration at www.napawash.org; Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management at www.appam.org; Council for Excellence in Government at http://www.excelgov.org; the American Political Science Association at www.apsanet.org; the Alliance for Nonprofi t Management at www.allianceonline.org; the Independent Sector at www.independentsector.org; and the Academy of Management, Public and Nonprofi t Division at www.aom.pace.edu/pn/index.htm.


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On the other hand, our understanding of the manager’s role would suggest that there could be managers in governmental or nongovernmental agencies who would be pursuing interests other than those of the public. Certainly, those operating agencies in totalitarian countries could hardly be considered to be pursuing publicly defi ned values. They would more likely be pursuing the privately defi ned interests of a political elite. Similarly, we might question from time to time whether all managers in our democratic society have a proper concern for the public interest. Certainly, in cases where managers pursue their own personal agendas, as in cases of empire-building, we would question the “publicness” of their actions.

We now have a notion of the complexity of work in the public and nonprofi t sectors— the complexity inherent in the technical work of governmental and nongovernmental agencies, but, even more important, the complexity of the political and ethical context in which managers operate. Indeed, as noted before, this complexity will provide a theme that ties together many aspects of your work as an administrator. The way you set objec- tives, the way you develop budgets and hire personnel, the way you interact with other organizations and with your own clientele, the way you evaluate the success or failure of your programs—all of these aspects of your work as an administrator, and many more, are directly affected by the fact that you will be managing in the public interest.

■ Why Study Public Administration?

Students come to introductory courses in public administration for many different rea- sons. Many students recognize the vast array of positions in government (and elsewhere) that require training in public administration and hope that the course will provide basic information and skills that will move them toward careers as public or nonprofi t man- agers. These students seek to understand the fi eld of public administration, but also to sharpen their own skills as potential administrators.

Other students, whose interests lie in technical fi elds as wide ranging as engineering, teach- ing, natural resources, social work, and the fi ne arts, recognize that at some point in their careers their jobs may involve management in the public sector. The engineer may become director of a public works department; the teacher may become school principal; the natural resources expert may be asked to run an environmental quality program; the social worker may administer a welfare program; or the fi ne arts major may direct a publicly supported gallery or museum. In these cases, and others like them, the individual’s technical expertise may need to be complemented by managerial training.

The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration is the accrediting body for programs in public administration and pursues other educational matters. See its home page at www.naspaa.org and download a list of NASPAA-accredited MPA programs at www.naspaa.org/accreditation/public/rosterofaccreditedschools2003-04.pdf.


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Other students may have no expectations whatsoever of working in a public agency, but they recognize that as corporate executives, as businesspeople, or merely as citizens, they are likely to be called upon to interact with those in public organizations. Someone who owns a small business might wish to sell products or services to a city, a county, or some other governmental body; partners in an accounting fi rm might seek auditing con- tracts with a local or state government; or a construction fi rm might bid on the design and construction of a new public building. In each case, knowledge of the operations of public agencies would not only be helpful, it would be essential.

A fi nal group of students, a group overlapping any of the previous three, might simply recognize the importance of public agencies in the governmental process and the impact of public organizations on their daily lives. They might wish to acquire the knowledge and skills that would enable them to more effectively analyze and infl uence public policy. Some will fi nd the world of public administration a fascinating fi eld of study in its own right and pursue academic careers in public affairs. Because understanding the motives for studying public administration will also give us a more complete view of the variety and importance of managerial work in the public sector, we will examine each in greater detail.

Preparing for Administrative Positions

You may be among those who wish to use the introductory public administration course as a stepping-stone to a career in the public service. If so, you will fi nd that these careers take many forms. We sometimes make distinctions among program managers, staff managers, and policy analysts. Program managers range from the executive level to the supervisory level and are in charge of particular governmental or nongovernmental programs, such as those in environmental quality or transportation safety. Their job is to allocate and moni- tor human, material, and fi nancial resources to meet the service objectives of their agency. Staff managers, on the other hand, support the work of program managers through budget- ing and fi nancial management, personnel and labor relations, and purchasing and procure- ment. Meanwhile, policy analysts provide important information about existing programs through their research into the operations and impacts of the programs; moreover, analysts help bring together information about new programs, assess the possible effects of different courses of action, and suggest new directions for public policy. Managers and analysts may work with the chief executive, with the legislature, with offi cials at other levels of govern- ment, and with the public in framing and reframing public programs.

As we will see, the work of public and nonprofi t organizations also encompasses a wide vari- ety of substantive areas. Think for a moment of the range of activities the federal government engages in. The federal government touches upon nearly every aspect of American life, from aeronautics, air transportation, and atmospheric sciences; to helping the homeless, juvenile delin- quents, and migrant workers; to working with waste management, wages standards, and water quality. In each area, skilled managers are called upon to develop, implement, and evaluate gov- ernment programs. But the work of managers at the federal level represents only a part of the work of those trained in public administration.

At the state and local levels of government, and in the nonprofi t sector, even more oppor- tunities exist. As we will see in Chapter 2, although there is only one federal government in

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this country, there are almost 88,000 state and local governments (these include cities, coun- ties, and special districts) and more than 1.3 million nonprofi t organizations. State and local government employment in this country amounts to over 15 million persons (compared to under 3 million civilians employed at the federal level), and nearly 12 million people work for nonprofi t organizations.

Obviously, the work of government at the state and local levels is different from that at the federal level. State and local governments, for example, do not directly provide for the national defense; however, most have police forces, which the federal government does not have. There are also other positions at the state and local levels that do not have exact counterparts at the federal level. For example, consider the president or chancellor of your state university a public administrator with signifi cant and unusual responsibilities, or consider the city manager in a local community a professional administrator appointed by a city council to manage the various functions of local government.

And the public service is not limited to work in government. Beyond employment in federal, state, or local government, those trained in public administration will fi nd many other opportunities. Directors of nonprofi t organizations at the state and local levels, as well as those in similar associations at the national level, often fi nd that the skills required for their jobs—skills that combine managerial training with an understanding of the political system—are the skills developed in public administration courses. Again, to dem- onstrate the breadth of these activities, we might note that there are large numbers of non- profi t associations at the national level alone, ranging from well-known groups such as the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association, to trade groups such as the American Frozen Food Institute and the National Association of Bedding Manufactur- ers, to professional associations such as the American Society for Public Administration and those representing a particular fi eld of interest, such as the Metropolitan Opera Guild. There is even an association of association executives: the American Society of Associa- tion Executives. Beyond these groups at the national level, there are numerous nonprofi t groups operating at state and local levels—for example, local United Way organizations, local food banks, art leagues, or historic preservation groups.

Finally, those with training in public administration may work in a private corpora- tion’s public affairs division. Because of the increasing interaction across private, public, and nongovernmental sectors, corporations and nonprofi t organizations often need special assistance in tracking legislation, developing and monitoring government contracts, and infl uencing the legislative or regulatory process. Thus, the combination of managerial and political skills possessed by someone with training in public administration can be highly valuable. The career possibilities in the fi eld of public administration are seemingly endless.

Combining Technical and Managerial Training

Many students seek positions in the public service as a primary career objective, whereas many others see the possibility of work in public administration as secondary, but none- theless important, to their main fi eld of interest. As noted, the work of government spans many areas; consequently, the people who work for government (one out of every six people in this country) come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds. There are

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engineers who work in the Defense Department and for NASA at the federal level, in state highway departments, and in local public works departments. People interested in natural resources may work for the U.S. Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, in state conservation departments, and local parks departments. Medical personnel may work for the Veterans Administration or the National Institute for Mental Health, for state health departments, and for local hospitals and health offi ces.

Governments at all levels hire social workers, planners, personnel specialists, accoun- tants, lawyers, biologists, law enforcement offi cers, educators, researchers, recreation spe- cialists, and agricultural specialists, just to mention a few. To illustrate the magnitude of government employment, over 778,000 people work in the postal service, 390,000 are employed in health care, and 110,000 fi nancial administrators work in the federal govern- ment alone. (U.S. Census, ftp2.census.gov/govs/apes/05fedfun.pdf)

People who have worked for some time within a technical fi eld in a public organization are often promoted to managerial positions. A surgeon may become chief of surgery, a water pollution specialist may be asked to direct a pollution control project, or a teacher may become a school principal. Despite having started out in a technical fi eld, these indi- viduals fi nd themselves in a managerial position; they are public administrators. Some people may desire promotion to a managerial position; others may not. (There are some jurisdictions in which continued advancement practically requires moving into an admin- istrative position.) But whatever one’s motivation, the new administrator soon discovers a completely new world of work. Now the most pressing questions are not the technical ones, but rather those having to do with management, with program planning and design, with supervision and motivation, and with balancing scarce resources. Often the situation is quite bewildering; it’s almost as if one has been asked to change professions in midcareer from technical expert to public manager.

So many people from technical fi elds fi nd themselves in managerial positions in the public sector that many of them seek training in public administration. For this reason, it is no longer unusual for students majoring in technical fi elds to take courses in public admin- istration or for students to combine undergraduate training in a technical fi eld with gradu- ate training in public administration (even at midcareer). This, then, is a second reason for studying public administration: to prepare for the eventuality that work in a technical fi eld of interest might lead you to a managerial position in the public sector.

Interaction of Business and Government

Even for students who never work for a public agency of any type, understanding the processes of policy formulation and implementation can be enormously helpful. One of the most important trends in American society is the increasing interaction of business and government. Clearly, the decisions of government affect the environment in which busi- ness operates, but government also specifi cally regulates many businesses and, of course, serves as the biggest single customer of business.

Those in business recognize that governmental decisions affect the economic climate. Most obvious are the effects of governmental decisions at the federal level. Consider, for example, the impact of government economic pronouncements on the stock market.

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State and local governments, however, also affect the business climate. The governors of many states have begun major campaigns to attract industry to their states, providing not only information and advice, but specifi c incentives for plants and industries that might relocate. Similar activities are being undertaken in more and more local communities, as cities recognize that they are in competition for economic development. At a minimum, business recognizes that the political climate of any locality directly affects the area’s economic climate.

But the infl uence of government on business is more specifi c. At the federal level, major regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, provide specifi c guidelines in which certain businesses must operate. Moreover, requirements of agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration restrict the operations of business so as to ensure the quality of air and water and the safety of working conditions. Similarly, at the state level, some agencies directly regulate specifi c businesses, while others act more gen- erally to prevent unfair or unsafe practices. Even at the local level, through licensing and zoning practices, public organizations directly regulate business practice.

Government is also important as a consumer of business products and services. At the federal level, over $330 billion is spent each year on goods and services; in the Defense Department alone, the fi gure is over $200 billion per year. Similarly, at the state and local levels, these expenditures amount to almost $270 billion a year (www.census.gov/prod/ 2005pubs/cffr-04.pdf and www.census.gov/govs/estimate/0400ussl_1.html). Business is attentive to its customers, so it is not surprising that business is attentive to government!

For all these reasons, people in business are becoming increasingly aware of the need to understand in detail the work of government—how policies are made, how they are imple- mented, and how they may be infl uenced. Not only are more and more businesses developing public affairs offi ces to specialize in governmental operations, track policy developments, and attempt to infl uence policy, but they are placing a greater premium upon having executives at all levels who understand how government agencies operate. Even if you plan a career in busi- ness, understanding the work of public organizations is an essential part of your training.

Infl uencing Public Organizations

Any of the motives for studying public administration we have discussed so far may bring you to an introductory course. There is, however, another more general reason you may wish to study public administration: to understand one important aspect of the governmental process so you can deal effectively with public issues that directly affect your life. We are all affected by the work of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, so it is helpful, and sometimes even essential, to understand the operations of these organizations.

We have become so accustomed to the pervasiveness of the public service and the range of its infl uence that we sometimes forget just how often our lives are touched by public and nonprofi t organizations. Imagine a typical day: We wake up in the morning to the sounds of a commercially regulated radio station or National Public Radio coming over a patented and FCC-registered clock radio operating on power supplied by either a government-regulated power company or a public utility. We brush our teeth with toothpaste produced under a

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government patent and trust that it has been judged safe (if not effective) by a federal agency. We use municipally operated water and sewer systems without thinking of the complexity of their operation. We dress in clothes produced under governmental restrictions and eat food prepared in accordance with government regulations and inspected by the government. We drive on a public highway, following government enforced traffi c laws, to a university substantially funded by federal, state, and sometimes local dollars to study from books copy- righted and catalogued by the Library of Congress. Though the day has hardly begun, our lives already have been touched by public organizations in a multitude of ways.

The importance of public administration in daily life is tremendous; consequently, the decisions made by governmental and nongovernmental offi cials (and not just elected offi cials) can affect us directly. Imagine, for example, that one day you discover that the loan program that is helping to fi nance your college education is being reviewed and will likely be revised in such a way that you will no longer be eligible for funding. In this case, you might well want to take some action to maintain your eligibility. Obviously, know- ing something about the operations of government agencies, especially some of the ways administrative decisions can be infl uenced, would be of great help.

As citizens affected by the public service, understanding the operations of public and nonprofi t organizations is helpful; it is even more important if one becomes personally involved in some aspect of the governmental process. For those reading this book, such involvement is actually rather likely. Indeed, if you are a college graduate, regardless of your major or fi eld of interest, chances are quite good that at some point in your life you will engage in some kind of formal governmental activity. You may be elected to local, state, or national offi ce; you may be asked to serve on a board or commission; or your advice concerning government operations in your area may be sought in other ways. You may also become involved in the work of nonprofi t organizations or charities in your local community. In any of these cases, a thorough knowledge of the structure and processes of public organizations, both government and nonprofi t organizations, will be of great importance.

Finally, those who are interested in understanding the work of public or nonprofi t organizations may indeed fi nd the fi eld of public administration interesting from a more academic standpoint: studying and commenting on the operations of government and nonprofi t organizations contribute to our understanding of the process of policy devel- opment and support the work of those in public organizations. The opportunities for academic careers in public administration, positions involving teaching and research, are many, and you may fi nd yourself drawn to those opportunities. Even here, however, one begins with a concern for action.

You have served three years as head of your state’s human services agency. In general, your relationship with the governor has been quite good, and your relationship with the legislature (which is dominated by the governor’s party) has been congenial as well. Recently, however, there has been a move in the legislature to reduce funding for a child care program you think is essential to fi nding and maintaining employment for women on welfare. What would you do?

What Would You Do?

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Making Things Happen

Of the many reasons to learn about public and nonprofi t organizations, one theme seems to tie together the various interests: an interest in making things happen. Whether you are preparing for a career in the public sector covering the possibility that you might some- day manage a public agency, or simply preparing to affect the course of public policy and its implementation as it directly affects you or your business, your interest is in taking action and infl uencing what goes on in public and nonprofi t organizations. It’s one thing to gain knowledge of the fi eld in the abstract, but most students want to learn those things that will make them more effective actors in the governmental process. Some of the more prominent actors are discussed in Box 1.2.

BOX 1.2


For my part, when I think of government service, in uniform and out, I think of individual men and women of genuine distinction who have served this country over the years and also of the amazing diversity of a service that can range from defending our borders to delivering our mail, curing disease to exploring outer space. I was looking at a civil service publication the other day containing an alphabetical list of well-known employees through the years “and found it began with a career civil servant named Neil Armstrong who went on TDY (temporary duty) to the moon” and concluded several pages later with Walt Whitman, the poet, who worked in the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Attorney [General’s offi ce]. How’s that for diversity? Incidentally, the group also included four Nobel Prize winners and several important inventors, including Alexander Graham Bell, who among his other associations worked for the Census Bureau. There also were some other familiar names of people who shared your proud profes- sion: Clara Barton, Washington Irving, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Lindbergh, Knute Rockne, Harry Truman, and James Whistler, to name but a few.

In my own experience, as one who served the federal government for some years, I look back on those periods as among the most exciting, challenging, and thoroughly demanding in life. I have often said, and still say, that I never worked harder than I did in my years as a public servant. I worked alongside some of the fi nest, most competent, thoroughly committed people I have ever known. I realize this does not comport with everything that you read in the papers or see on television, but I never miss a chance to point it out. My own experience in government left me with an abiding respect for the men and women who serve this nation as public employees.

SOURCE: Norman R. Augustine, Chairman and Chief Executive Offi cer of Martin Marietta Corporation, Address to the Federal Executive Board, Denver, Colorado, April 26, 1989. Text provided by The Council for Excellence in Government, Washington, D.C.

This book is geared toward action, toward how to make things happen in the public service. Our perspective will be that of the actor, not the scholar, although an understanding of the world of administrative action is the basis for good scholarship as well. Action fi rst requires a base of knowledge; there are certain things that you simply need to know about government and the administrative process to be effective. There are also value questions

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that must be settled in the course of making and carrying out public decisions. And, fi nally, there are both technical and interpersonal skills you must acquire to be effective in working with others in your chosen fi eld. Selecting an action orientation, therefore, commits you to emphasizing all three areas: the knowledge, values, and skills that will help you to become more effective and responsible in your work with “real life” public organizations.

■ Issues in Public Administration Theory and Practice

Throughout the chapters to come, our primary emphasis will be on action—those things that real-world actors do in order to be successful in public and nonprofi t organizations. But action never stands alone. Without some degree of refl ection, action is sterile and unguided. For this reason, we will outline two themes that have traditionally characterized work in public organizations and that continue to be of great importance today. As such, these themes—politics and administration, and bureaucracy and democracy—provide a part of the intellectual and practical context of public administration. Although our pur- pose is to simply introduce these two themes, we suggest that they are most often manifest in contemporary public administration as a tension between effi ciency and responsiveness. This tension is one that is absolutely central to the work of public administrators today and one to which we will return frequently within the context of specifi c discussions of administrative action.

Politics and Administration

Even though the supposed dichotomy between politics and administration is one of the oldest issues in public administration, it continues to hold great relevance for adminis- trators today. You will recall that an early essay by Woodrow Wilson framed the initial study of public administration in this country. In addition to his emphasis on business- like practices, Wilson was concerned with isolating the processes of administration from the potentially corrupting infl uences of politics. Wilson wrote, “Administration lies out- side 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 offi ces” (Wilson, 1887, p. 210). In other words, although policies were to be debated and decided by politicians, they were to be carried out by a politically neutral, professional bureaucracy. In this way, the everyday conduct of government would be isolated from the potentially corrupting infl uence of politics.

Other early writers joined Wilson in talking, at least analytically, about the distinction between politics (or policy) and administration. More practical reformers went further, creating governmental forms, such as the council-manager plan for local government, that were based on a separation of policy and administration. As we will see later in this form of government, the council presumably makes the policy and the city manager carries it out. The council is engaged in politics (or policy) and the manager in administration.

Over the fi rst few decades of this century, however, the distinction between policy and admin- istration was increasingly broken down, even in council-manager governments. Managers found

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that they had expertise that was needed by policy makers and began to be drawn into the policy process. By about the middle of the century, Paul Appleby of Syracuse University would write simply, “Public administration is policy-making” (Appleby, 1949, p. 170).

The increasing involvement of administrators in the policy process was in part attrib- utable to the fact that the operations of government, and in contemporary society of nonprofi t organizations, were becoming more complex, and the technical and professional skills needed to operate public agencies were dramatically increasing. As people with such skills and expertise became a part of public organizations, they were inevitably called upon to present their views. At the same time, the legislative branches of government (at all levels) found it diffi cult to be knowledgeable about every detail of government and, con- sequently, were forced to rely more and more on the expertise of those in public agencies. Additionally, the complexity of government meant that legislative bodies often found it necessary to state laws in general terms, leaving those within government agencies consid- erable discretion to interpret those laws as they saw fi t and, therefore, make policy daily.

Ensuring Accountability The acknowledgment of the interaction of politics and adminis- tration does not make the question of their relationship any easier. If public administrators make policy, how can we be sure that the policies they make are responsible to the people (as we would expect in a democratic society)? Presumably, legislators must be at least somewhat responsive, or, come the next election, they will no longer be legislators. But what of administrators?

Traditionally, the answer was that the administrators were accountable to the legisla- tors, who, in turn, were accountable to the people. But even that argument is somewhat tricky today. Those in public and nonprofi t agencies do indeed both work with and report to legislatures, but they also shape public opinion through the information they provide. They mobilize for support inside and outside government and bargain with a variety of public and private groups. To a certain extent, they act as independent agents.

For this reason, more contemporary discussions of accountability (which we will elabo- rate on in Chapter 4) place an emphasis on measures that would supplement accountabil- ity to the legislature by either seeking a strong subjective sense of responsibility on the part of administrators or by providing structural controls to ensure responsibility. As we will see, some people have tried to assert professional standards in public and nonprofi t orga- nizations, while others have developed codes of ethics and standards of professional prac- tice. Others have sought greater legislative involvement in the administrative process or more substantial legislative review. Still others have described mechanisms such as public

Issues in Public Administration Theory and Practice 1 7

You are the executive director of the Parents Anonymous organization in your area. Your organization is devoted to preventing child abuse and strengthening families. Recently one of your traditional sources of funding was terminated. You are faced with the prospect of reducing staff (and services) or coming up with new revenues. What would you do?

What Would You Do?

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participation in the administrative process or surveys of public opinion that would bring the administrator in closer alignment with the sentiments of the citizenry.

The relationship between politics (or policy) and administration will be a theme that recurs throughout the remainder of this book. Although the classic dichotomy between politics and administration has fallen, as the role of public administrators in the policy process has become more apparent, the question of the relationship between politics and administration remains central, simply because it goes to the heart of what public administration is all about. If public organizations differ from other organizations in our society, that difference must surely rest in the way public organizations participate in and respond to the public interest. But that issue merely leads us to another: the relationship between bureaucracy and democracy.

Bureaucracy and Democracy

A second theme that grew from early discussions of public administration had to do with the potential for confl ict between democracy and bureaucracy. Let’s start once again with democracy. One writer has defi ned the moral commitments of a democracy in terms of three standards. First, democratic principles assume that the individual is the primary measure of human value and that the development of the individual is the primary goal of a democratic political system. Second, democratic morality suggests that all persons are created equal—that differences in wealth, status, or position should not give one person or group an advantage over another. Third, democratic morality emphasizes widespread participation among the citizens in the making of major decisions (Redford, 1969, p. 8).

Set against these tenets of democracy are the ideals of bureaucratic management. The early scholars and practitioners in public administration were, of course, writing at a time when businesses were growing rapidly and beginning to use more complicated tech- nologies and new ways of organizing appropriate to those technologies. To some extent the public sector looked to the fi eld of business for models of organization. They found that the growth of large-scale business had led to the development of large and complex bureaucratic organizations, organizations that were built around values quite different from those of democracy. (Although the term bureaucracy is often used in a pejorative sense, as in “bureaucratic red tape,” we will use it here in its more neutral and scientifi c sense: as a way of organizing work.) Consequently, the bureaucratic model of organizing was brought into the public sector.

The values of bureaucracy included fi rst the need to bring together the work of many individuals in order to achieve purposes far beyond the capabilities of any single indi- vidual. Second, bureaucratic systems were to be structured hierarchically, with those at the top having far greater power and discretion than those at the bottom. Third, bureaucratic organization generally assumes that power and authority fl ow from the top of the organi- zation to the bottom rather than the other way around. (We will examine the concept of bureaucracy in greater detail in Chapter 5.)

In contrast to the democratic value of individuality, there stood the bureaucratic value of the group or organization; in contrast to the democratic values of equality, there stood the bureaucratic hierarchy; and in contrast to the democratic values of participation and involve- ment, there stood the bureaucratic value of top-down decision making and authority.

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How these values were to be reconciled became a diffi cult issue for early scholars and practitioners in the fi eld of public administration, as it continues to be today. A variety of questions are raised. For example, is it proper for a democratic government to carry out its work through basically authoritarian organizations? The key issue turns out to be an emphasis on effi ciency as the sole measure of agency success.

Effi ciency versus Responsiveness

Those in public administration have long wrestled with the issues of politics and admin- istration, and democracy and bureaucracy, public (and increasingly nonprofi t) managers have begun to experience these tensions more frequently in the day-to-day problems they face in terms of effi ciency versus responsiveness. Indeed, in a sense, the two earlier issues seem to have dissolved into the single issue of effi ciency versus responsiveness. On the one hand, there is the hope that public and nonprofi t organizations will operate in the most effi cient way possible, getting things done quickly and at the least cost to taxpayers and donors. On the other hand, public managers must be constantly attentive to the demands of the citizenry, whether those demands are expressed through the chief executive, through the legislature, or directly.

A practical and contemporary expression of this diffi culty is presented in case study number 5 at the end of the chapter. (You might want to read it now. See number 5 under “Cases and Exercises.”) The case relates a dispute that arose in the course of developing a new housing loan program. Although the case presents several different issues, most students reviewing the case focus their attention on the different interpretations that John and Carol have of their work. At fi rst glance, John appears to be solely interested in doing things effi ciently, while Carol appears to be much more concerned with responding to the needs of the client group. The case appears to be a classic illustration of the tension between effi ciency and responsiveness, and indeed it is. But at a deeper level, the case also illustrates how complex the issues really are. You might say, for example, that John was trying to be effi cient in response to the demands of those clients who had been waiting for their loans to be processed. You might also say that Carol, through her educational efforts, was helping to ensure a more effi cient, long-term operation.

The main point, of course, is that in public organizations, you may frequently encoun- ter diffi culties in reconciling effi ciency and responsiveness. A key to resolving the ethical questions raised in situations such as that faced by John and Carol is fi rst understanding the various moral values represented on each side of the equation and second, engaging in ethical deliberation (and perhaps dialogue) to arrive at a proper approach to the problem. Interestingly enough, in this particular case, the real-life characters represented by John and Carol got together and talked through the differences in their respective approaches. The result was a course of action they both agreed on, one they felt met their obligations to be both effi cient and responsive. In the real world, dialogue sometimes works!

To summarize this point, the themes of politics and administration, and bureaucracy and democracy have marked much of the history of the fi eld of public administration. Today these themes seem often to manifest in the tension between effi ciency and responsiveness. Are public agencies to concentrate only on creating the desired outcomes in the most effi cient manner

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possible? Or should such agencies be responsive to the public interest and the public will, even though the public interest and public will may not have been explicitly articulated by elected offi cials, especially those in the legislature? Time after time, you’ll fi nd evidence of this tension in discussions on public policy, human resources management, budgeting and fi nancial man- agement, and so on. The tension between effi ciency and responsiveness remains an “unsolved mystery” of public administration. But perhaps for that reason, it is a tension that helps make public administration such a fascinating and dynamic fi eld.

■ What Do Public Administrators Do?

An action orientation to public administration requires that we focus on what public and nonprofi t managers actually do—how they act in real-world situations. How do they spend their time? What skills do they require to do their work well? What are the rewards and frustrations of public service? From the perspective of the administrator, we can ask, What characterizes the most effective and responsible public or nonprofi t management? What are the demands on administrators? What are the satisfactions that public managers draw from their work?

We will approach these issues by concentrating on the skills managers need to accom- plish their work. In a classic article in the Harvard Business Review, Robert Katz provided the fi rst major descriptions of the general skills all managers need: conceptual, technical, and human (Katz, 1974). 1. Conceptual skills include the ability to think abstractly, especially in regard to the manager’s

concept of the organization. This category also involves the ability to see the organization as a whole, how all the parts or functions work and fi t together, and how making a change in one part will affect other parts. Conceptual skills also include the ability to see how the organization, or parts of it, relate to the organization’s environment.

2. Technical skills refer to an understanding of, and profi ciency in, the methods, pro- cesses, and techniques for accomplishing tasks. These are, for example, the skills of an accountant who can conduct an audit or develop an income statement or the skills of a mechanic who can repair an engine.

3. Human skills involve the capacity to work effectively as a member of a group or the ability to get others to work together effectively. (“Others” may include subordinates, superiors, managers at the same level, or virtually anyone with whom one might work on a given project or assignment.)

All these skills are important to managers, but are not equally important to all managers. Katz makes a strong argument that technical skills are most important to managers at the supervisory level who manage day-to-day operations but become less and less important as the level of management increases. On the other hand, conceptual skills are most important to top-level managers who must deal with the organization as a whole rather than with just one or a few parts of it. Conceptual skills are less important at the middle-management level and least important at the supervisory level.

Human skills, however, maintain a constant, high level of importance; they are critical regardless of one’s level. How managers’ human skills are employed may vary from level to level (for example, top managers lead more meetings than supervisory managers), but

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as a category, human skills remain the one constant for managerial success. In this book, we will consider the knowledge and values associated with public management (concep- tual skills), the techniques public managers require in such areas as budgeting and person- nel (technical skills), and the personal and interpersonal qualities that help managers work effectively with others (human skills).

An Inventory of Public Management Skills

One way to elaborate on an action approach is to create an inventory of the skills and competencies required for successful public and nonprofi t management. There are many ways such an inventory can be constructed. One of the best ways is to talk with public and nonprofi t managers about their work, as we suggest in exercise 1 at the end of the chapter. Several research studies have sought to answer this question by identify- ing the skills that are critical to managerial success. Of these studies, an early study by the federal government’s Offi ce of Personnel Management (OPM) is particularly helpful (Flanders & Utterback, 1985). The OPM study was based on information gathered from a large number of highly effective federal managers and produced a description of the broad elements of managerial performance at the supervisory, managerial, and executive levels.

Websites dealing with management issues at the federal level include the Offi ce of Personnel management at www.opm.gov and those services listed at www.usa.gov. In addition to the journals listed in the back of the book, you might be interested in the websites of the following: Governing magazine at www.governing.com; the Chronicle of Philanthropy at www.philanthropy.com; Government Executive magazine at www. govexec.com; Government Technology magazine at www.govtech.com; and The Public Manager at www.thepublicmanager.org.


According to the OPM study, the competencies of managers include being sensitive to agency policies and national concerns; representing the organization and acting as a liai- son to those outside the organization; establishing organizational goals and the processes to carry them out; obtaining and allocating necessary resources to achieve the agency’s purposes; effectively utilizing human resources; and monitoring, evaluating, and redirect- ing the work of the organization. But the OPM researchers recognized that managerial excellence requires not only doing the job, but doing it well. For this reason, they devel- oped a set of skills, attitudes, and perspectives that seemed to distinguish the work of highly successful managers.

But different skills are required at different levels. As managers move up the organizational ladder, they must accumulate increasingly broader sets of skills. The researchers suggest, for

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example, that fi rst-line supervisors must apply communication skills, interpersonal sensitiv- ity, and technical competence to ensure effective performance on their own part and within the work unit. In addition, their actions must begin to refl ect those characteristics in the next ring: leadership, fl exibility, an action orientation, and a focus on results.

Middle managers, on the other hand, must demonstrate all these characteristics of effectiveness and begin to acquire the skills listed in the outer ring: a broad perspective, a strategic view, and environmental sensitivity. Executives at the highest levels of the public service who are responsible for the accomplishment of broad agency objectives must dem- onstrate the full complement of effectiveness characteristics to be most successful. Clearly, a wide diversity of skills, regardless of how the job is constructed or of the style in which it is executed, will be essential to your success as a manager.

A more recent study by the OPM detailed the core qualifi cations expected of the highest- level government executives, those comprising the Senior Executive Service. This study fi rst presented fi ve executive core qualifi cations: leading change, leading people, results driven, business acumen, and building coalitions. These were complemented by six “competencies”: interpersonal skills, oral communication, integrity/honesty, written communication, continual learning, and public service motivation. (OPM, 2006)

Voices of Public Administrators

Studies such as that of the OPM are helpful in understanding what you need to know and what you must be able to do to be successful in public administration. But how does it actually “feel” to work in a public or nonprofi t organization? The best way to answer this question is to let some public servants speak for themselves (see Box 1.3). Recently, we spoke to three outstanding professionals in the fi eld of public administration about their views of the fi eld and their feelings about their work. The following accounts are based on those interviews. Jan C. Perkins served for many years as city manager of Fremont, California. When asked about her motivations for entering the fi eld of public administration, this was her reply.

I was interested in improving the quality of life for all people and increasing the access of women and minorities. I believed that I could have the most impact by being involved in local government at a management level.

The most rewarding aspects of my work have been being able to articulate the mission of the city and focus my resources and efforts in effectively meeting that mis- sion, solving the problems of residents, and seeing employees grow and develop.

Those considering public service careers should understand that managing in the public arena is different from that in a private corporation. It requires a commitment to values such as providing quality services for all and dealing with all people on an equal level. It is very important that people who enter the public service do so with a high standard of ethical behavior and an ability to deal honestly and directly with all people.

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BOX 1.3


In reviewing my own motivations for staying in public service, I found several, rather than one single answer.

First, there is a joy in the use of skills learned through a long apprenticeship. After twenty years in public service, I realize my skills and abilities were not easily or painlessly acquired. My education in public service has been costly, and I feel an obligation to repay the resources, energy, and interest others have invested in teaching me.

A second factor is the conviction that the work is important. There is an underlying assump- tion in public service that we are all part of an effort that leads to a better life for individuals in our society. Public service is ultimately based on the view that the human condition can be improved, an optimism which perhaps forms the core of the motivation for staying in public service. In order to remain in government, you have to believe that your actions can have some small impact on the public good.

Only in public service can you fi nd the sense of completion that comes from working on a successful program to reduce infant mortality, for example, and then realizing that thirty- fi ve more children are alive this year as a result of that effort. Only in public service can you participate in a process that helps move individuals from mental hospitals back into the com- munity. The opportunity to help solve a community problem and then to witness the changes that occur is the cement that binds us to public service.

A fi nal motivation for public service is the importance of constantly reaffi rming the legiti- macy and credibility of government services in the public’s mind. One vital way to reaffi rm our ability to govern ourselves, to control our own fate, is to have government, at all levels, that delivers the services expected of it. This presupposes a cadre of individuals who can understand and manage public institutions. If there is no response when the public demands action, then it confi rms our sense of alienation and powerlessness, and we lose our ability to cooperate. If, as public servants, we are rusty, run-down, obsolete tools of government, then there will only be further reaction against the institution of government. The challenge is to be there whether or not we are wanted, to be committed to the public’s business whether or not we are noticed, to carry the public trust whether or not we are asked, and to pick up the garbage.

In the end, regardless of the personal reasons to stay in public service, the process of government demands dedicated professionals to make it work. The ability to continue day-to-day government operations in the face of all difficulties is what public service is about. That ability is what creates a legitimate government, what creates the public trust. If that is too abstract, then let us say that public service is about babies living, fires being extinguished, garbage collected, crimes solved, people moved. That is all there is, ever.

SOURCE: Thomas Downs, “Refl ections of a Public Service Junkie.” Reprinted with permission from the March 1988 issue of Public Management (PM) magazine, published by the International City/County Management Association, Washington, D.C. (Tom Downs has served several communities as city manager and also served as the president of Amtrak.)

What Do Public Administrators Do? 2 3

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Michael Stahl works for the federal government in the Environmental Protection Agency. He refl ected on his motivations for public service.

I entered public service because I viewed (and still do) government as an instrument to solve social problems. Democratic government can be a tremendous positive force in society, and in spite of recent political rhetoric and prevailing political ideology, I am convinced that the institutions and programs of government are of vital impor- tance to the nation and that public service is a noble calling.

There is great satisfaction in knowing that your work has made an impact on persons who could only have been helped through the intervention of the govern- ment. In my own experience, for example, schoolchildren across the country have been helped by elimination of exposure to asbestos in their schools that were unable to remove asbestos materials without federal fi nancial assistance from a program I helped implement. Government service provides opportunities to help people through means that are beyond the capabilities of the private sector.

If you are considering a career in the public service, take the time to refl ect on your motivation for entering the public service, because there are right reasons and wrong reasons. You are entering for the right reasons if you want to make a contribution to the solution of social problems, promote democratic values and ethical standards on using the powers of government, and if the concept of serving the public good is a passion. You are entering for the wrong reasons if you are looking for public adula- tion and recognition for your accomplishments, seeking material or fi nancial rewards as compensation for your hard work, or expecting to acquire levels of power and change the world according to your own plan. Those entering for the wrong reasons will be bitterly disappointed. Yet, for those whose passion is to contribute to the pub- lic good, government service can represent the single most satisfying way of translat- ing your passion into ideas and events for improving the quality of life for scores of people. Very few professions offer this kind of opportunity, and that is why public service will always be an exciting, challenging, and satisfying endeavor.

Obviously, these professionals, as well as Tom Downs, the “public service junkie” (see Box 1.3), take very seriously their commitment to serving others. In making such a commitment, these administrators participate in a long and proud tradition. Indeed, the public service has historically been considered one of the highest callings in our society and has been even more highly regarded in other countries, such as France and Japan.

Without question, the idea of serving others has enormous appeal, in part because of the great joy and satisfaction it brings. Those working in public organizations experience almost daily the rewards of public service.

■ Summary and Action Implications

As noted, our focus in this book is on the individual administrator or the individual citizen seeking to infl uence public policy through the agencies of government or through other public and non- governmental organizations. We consider in some detail the institutions, processes, and techniques

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required for work in the public and nonprofi t sectors. But, most importantly, we examine the “real world” of public administration, the world as experienced by the administrator.

That world, as we have seen, is one for which you will need to develop certain capa- bilities to operate effectively and responsibly. Among these we include an understanding of the institutions and processes of government; an appreciation of the values underlying public service; technical skills in such areas as program design, budgeting, and personnel; interpersonal skills in communications, leadership, and decision making; and a capacity to “put it all together” to integrate knowledge, skills, and values appropriately.

Ideally, in studying the issues discussed in this book, you will develop a good sense of the political context of public administration; a sound understanding of your role in both policy development and policy implementation; a sensitivity to the moral and ethical questions inherent in the notion of public service; technical competence in areas such as planning and program development, budgeting, personnel, and productivity; facility with interpersonal relationships (including leadership, decision making, and communications), and the self-confi dence and self-awareness to act effectively and responsibly in real-life situations. Though public administration in the abstract sometimes appears lifeless and remote, the real world of the practicing public administrator is a quite lively and interest- ing place, fi lled with challenging problems and unique opportunities.


Autocracy: Government by one.

Democracy: A political system in which decision-making power is widely shared among members of the society.

Equality: The idea that all persons have an equal claim to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Individualism: The idea that the dignity and integrity of the individual is of supreme importance.

Liberty: The idea that individual citizens of a democracy should have a high degree of self-determination.

Oligarchy: Government by the few.

Policy analysts: Persons who provide important information about public programs through research into the operations and impacts of the programs.

Program managers: Persons ranging from the executive level to the supervisory level who are in charge of particular governmental programs.

Public administration: The management of public programs.

Staff managers: Persons who support the work of program managers through budgeting and fi nancial management, personnel and labor relations, and purchasing and procurement.

Terms and Definitions 2 5

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1. Discuss some of the career opportunities available to those trained in public administration.

2. “One of the most important trends in American society is the increasing interaction of business and government.” This quotation signals the need for better recognition and understanding of the interactions between business and government. Discuss the importance of this interaction and why a clear understanding of the relationship between the public and private sector is necessary.

3. The differences between public administration and business management are profound. Explain how the two fi elds differ and why the two terms are not interchangeable.

4. How did early scholars, such as Woodrow Wilson, view the role of public administration in a democracy?

5. The term democracy can be interpreted in a variety of ways. What signifi cant concepts helped form the democratic society within which American government operates?

6. What is the role of “publicness” in defi ning the work of public and nonprofi t managers?


1. Interview a public administrator. Locate one or more people who work as managers or analysts in a public or nonprofi t organization and interview them. The interview- ees might work for a public university, local government, state or federal agency, or nonprofi t organization. They might be a university administrator, a city manager or department director (public works or parks and recreation), a county offi cial (such as a county clerk), a manager in state government (perhaps someone in a welfare offi ce or a highway department), a federal government manager (in a local offi ce of a department such as Social Security, Agriculture, or the FAA), or someone such as an association executive. They might be a program manager, a staff manager, or a policy analyst. Ask the people you interview to describe their jobs, including the range of responsibilities they have and the knowledge, values, and skills that are impor- tant to them in their work. The following are some examples of questions you might want to ask.

• Describe the work you do and how you came to this position. What is your educational and work background?

• What impact does the work you do have on the community/state/nation/and so on?

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• What do you fi nd different or unusual about working in a public organization? How do you think your job compares to other jobs at a comparable level in business or industry?

• What knowledge, values, and skills are important to your work? For instance, if you were hiring someone to take your place, what would you look for?

2. Consider the following case. As an administrative assistant in the Department of Finance of a midsize suburban community, you are asked by the director to contract with an accounting fi rm to audit the books of the 10 major city departments. You develop a request for bids, advertise in the local newspaper, and send written notices to all the local accounting fi rms. In response, you receive fi ve proposals, four from local fi rms and one from a Big Eight accounting fi rm based in a nearby city. The proposals are essentially the same with respect to cost and expected quality of work. However, one fi rm, Jones and Denham, appears to have considerably more experi- ence, having done similar audits locally in the past. Having gathered all the informa- tion you feel you need to make a decision, you make an appointment to report to the director early Tuesday morning. At lunch on Monday, however, a friend who knows you are working on the auditing contract casually mentions that a certain Mr. Howard of the Firm T. P. Howard and Co. is the brother-in-law of the mayor. T. P. Howard and Co. is one of the fi ve fi rms that has submitted bids for the auditing contract. Later that afternoon, you receive a call from the mayor, asking for a report on the auditing contract. What do you say to the mayor? What do you recommend be done about the contract? What does this case say about the relationship between business and government?

3. Consider the following case. There wasn’t much that David Wood couldn’t do. He was an excellent teacher, a dedicated scholar, and a good department chair. He had been called to the chancellor’s offi ce to comment on a new curriculum proposal, one his faculty and he had discussed, and one they fi rmly opposed. The chancellor began the meeting by commenting on the excellent administrative work that David had been doing and on the possibility that he might be considered for a deanship that was opening up soon. David had always wanted to be a dean. He voiced very mild objec- tion to the curriculum proposal and then promised to try to convince his faculty to support it. Moving from an academic position into an administrative position or from any technical position into an administrative position puts you in a different world, one with greater complexity and different pressures. What are some of the factors that affect those holding managerial jobs as opposed to technical jobs?

4. Recently fraternities and sororities at a major midwestern university were informed that the property tax classifi cation for their houses was being changed from “resi- dential” to “commercial,” a change that would increase the assessed values of the properties from 19 percent to 32 percent and would cost the Greek houses thousands of dollars in new taxes. The Greeks felt the change was inappropriate because, as one

Cases and Exercises 2 7

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member stated, “There’s not a fraternity or sorority on campus that makes a profi t.” On the other hand, a county offi cial pointed out that the houses contain more than “four dwelling units,” as the law describes it. Moreover, fraternities and sororities are probably not residential enterprises and are defi nitely not agricultural ones (as speci- fi ed in the law), so they are relegated to the third “catch-all” category, “commercial and all others.”

If you were advising the Greek organization as to how they might seek relief, what would you recommend? What kind of action should they take? Where should an appeal originate? How might it proceed?

5. Consider the following case study (see the discussion under “Effi ciency versus Responsiveness” earlier in this chapter).

John Taylor and Carol Langley worked for a local, nonprofi t community development agency. Following a rather massive reorganization of the agency in which a number of new programs were taken on, John was asked to supervise a new housing loan program and Carol was asked to assist him. The program was designed to provide low-interest loans to people in rehabilitating housing in certain parts of the city. Although John and Carol had experience in related areas, neither was familiar with this particular program. To make matters worse, seminars to provide help in establishing such programs had been held some months earlier. John and Carol were simply given a manual and told to begin.

The program involved a number of new activities and took considerable time to set up. For example, it was necessary to train new housing inspectors to coordinate their inspection activities with those provided by the city government, and relationships had to be established with the other public and nonprofi t agencies that would provide information about the applicants being processed.

John soon began receiving considerable pressure to complete the processing of the fi rst group of applications within a brief period of time. For one thing, the fi rst group of applicants consisted of some forty people who had originally applied for other programs but had been turned down. Because their applications had been on fi le in the agency for as long as one year, they were quite anxious to have their applications processed quickly. Initial visits and phone calls from several of the applicants made John quite aware of their feelings. In addition, however, John knew that this particular loan program would have a signifi cant impact on the community and that, consequently, his doing an effi cient job under these diffi cult circumstances would be important both to the agency and to his own future in public service.

Carol recognized the necessity to do the work as quickly as possible, but she also felt a special obligation to the applicants themselves. She took seriously the agency director’s comment that the agency could use this opportunity to help “educate” the applicants about the procedures involved in such projects. She felt it was very important to check periodically on the inspections, cost estimates, loan amounts, fi nancial information, and terms and conditions of the loans. Unlike John, who spent most of his time in the offi ce, she talked frequently with the applicants, many of whom she knew personally from her previous position in the agency.

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For each applicant, John and Carol were to accumulate a complete fi le of information about the fi nancial status and rehabilitation project the applicant had in mind. This fi le was to be received and signed by the applicant, then forwarded to the federal regional offi ce of HUD for further action.

John felt the process could be completed more quickly if Carol would simply get the applicants to sign a blank set of forms that could be kept at the offi ce.

When information was received regarding a loan, the appropriate items could be entered on the signed forms, bypassing the time involved reviewing each form with the applicant. Also, this procedure would eliminate the often lengthy process of coordinating several offi ce visits to discuss the material.

When John asked Carol to obtain the signed forms, she refused. Not only was she concerned that the applicants see and understand the materials before signing, she was afraid that getting people to sign blank forms might be illegal. When she talked with John’s supervisor about the request, she was told that the procedure was not illegal and had been used before by people in the regional offi ce.


Ban, Carolyn. How Do Public Managers Manage? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995. Cohen, Steven, and William Eimicke. The New Effective Public Manager. San Francisco: Jossey-

Bass, 1995. Cayer, Joseph N., and Louis F. Weschler. Public Administration: Social Change & Adaptive

Management. 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Birkdale Publishers, 2003. Doig, Jameson W., and Erwin C. Hargrove. Leadership and lnnovation. Baltimore, MD: Johns

Hopkins University Press, 1987. Frederickson, H. George. The Spirit of Public Administration. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997. Ingraham, Patricia, and Donald F. Kettl, eds. Agenda for Excellence. Chatham, NJ: Chatham

House, 1992. Hal, Rainey G. Understanding and Managing Public Organizations. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-

Bass, 2003. Kettl, Donald F., and Brinton Milward, eds. The State of Public Management. Baltimore, MD:

Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. King, Cheryl Simrell, and Camilla Stivers. Government Is Us: Public Administration in an Anti-

Government Era. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998. King, Cheryl Simrell, and Lisa A. Zanetti. Transformational Public Service: Portraits of Theory in

Practice. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2005. Lynn, Naomi B., and Aaron Wildavsky, eds. Public Administration: The State of the Discipline.

Chatham, NJ: Chatham House, 1990. Meier, Kenneth J., and Laurence J. O’Toole, Jr. Bureaucracy in a Democratic State: A Governance

Perspective. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Perry, James. Handbook of Public Administration. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996. Peters, Guy B., and Jon Pierre, eds. Handbook of Public Administration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Publications, 2003. Pollitt, Christopher. The Essential Public Manager. Maidenhead, England: Open University, 2003.

For Additional Reading 2 9

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Rosenbloom, David H., and Howard E. McCurdy, eds. Revisiting Waldo’s Administrative State: Constancy and Change in Public Administration. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2006.

Rutgers, Mark R., ed. Retracing Public Administration. 1st ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2003. Stivers, Camilla. Democracy, Bureaucracy and the Study of Public Administration. Boulder,

CO: Westview Press, 2000.


OPM List of Core Executive Qualifi cations

■ Leading Change

Competency Description

Vision Takes a long-term view and acts as a catalyst for organizational change; builds a shared vision with others. Infl uences others to translate vision into action.

External Awareness

Identifi es and keeps up to date on key international policies and economic, political, and social trends that affect the organization. Understands near-term and long-range plans and determines how to best be positioned to achieve a competitive business advantage in a global economy.

Creativity and Innovation

Develops new insights into situations and applies innovative solutions to make organizational improvements; creates a work environment that encourages creative thinking and innovation; designs and imple- ments new or cutting-edge programs/processes.

Strategic Thinking

Formulates effective strategies consistent with the business and competitive strategy of the organization in a global economy. Examines policy issues and strategic planning with a long-term perspective. Determines objectives and sets priorities; anticipates potential threats or opportunities.

Continual Learning

Grasps the essence of new information; masters new technical and business knowledge; recognizes own strengths and weaknesses; pursues self-development; seeks feedback from others and opportu- nities to master new knowledge.

Resilience Deals effectively with pressure; maintains focus and intensity and remains optimistic and persistent, even under adversity. Recovers quickly from setbacks. Effectively balances personal life and work.

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■ Leading People

Competency Description

Confl ict Management Identifi es and takes steps to prevent potential situations that could result in unpleasant confrontations. Manages and resolves confl icts, and disagreements in a positive and constructive manner to minimize negative impact.

Leveraging Diversity Recruits, develops, and retains a diverse high quality workforce in an equitable manner. Leads and manages an inclusive workplace that maximizes the talents of each person to achieve sound business results. Respects, understands, values, and seeks out individual differences to achieve the vision and mission of the organization. Develops and uses measures and rewards to hold self and others accountable for achieving results that embody the principles of diversity.

Team Building Inspires, motivates, and guides others toward goal accomplishments. Consistently develops and sustains cooperative working relationships. Encourages and facilitates cooperation within the organization and with customer groups; fosters commitment, team spirit, pride, trust. Develops leadership in others through coaching, mentoring, rewarding and guiding employees.

Integrity/Honesty Instills mutual trust and confi dence; creates a culture that fosters high standards of ethics; behaves in a fair and ethical manner toward others, and demonstrates a sense of corporate responsibility and commitment to public service.

Leading People 3 1

Flexibility Is open to change and new information; adapts behavior and work methods in response to new information, changing conditions, or unexpected obstacles. Adjusts rapidly to new situations warranting attention and resolution.

Service Motivation

Creates and sustains an organizational culture which permits others to provide the quality of service essential to high performance. Enables others to acquire the tools and support they need to perform well. Shows a commitment to public service. Infl uences others toward a spirit of service and meaningful contributions.

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■ Building Coalitions/Communication

Competency Description

Oral Communication Makes clear and convincing oral presentations to individuals or groups; listens effectively and clarifi es information as needed; facilitates an open exchange of ideas and fosters atmosphere of open communication.

Written Communication Expresses facts and ideas in writing in a clear, convincing and organized manner.

Infl uencing/Negotiating Persuades others; builds consensus through give and take; gains cooperation from others to obtain information and accomplish goals; facilitates “win-win” situations.

Partnering Develops networks and builds alliances, engages in cross- functional activities; collaborates across boundaries, and fi nds common ground with a widening range of stakeholders. Utilizes contacts to build and strengthen internal support bases.

Political Savvy Identifi es the internal and external politics that impact the work of the organization. Approaches each problem situation with a clear perception of organizational and political reality, recognizes the impact of alternative courses of action.

Interpersonal Skills Considers and responds appropriately to the needs, feelings, and capabilities of different people in different situations; is tactful, compassionate and sensitive, and treats others with respect.

■ Results Driven

Competency Description

Accountability Assures that effective controls are developed and maintained to ensure the integrity of the organization. Holds self and others accountable for rules and responsibilities. Can be relied upon to ensure that projects within areas of specifi c responsibility are completed in a timely manner and within budget. Monitors and evaluates plans, focuses on results and measuring attainment of outcomes.

Problem Solving Identifi es and analyzes problems; distinguishes between relevant and irrelevant information to make logical decisions; provides solutions to individual and organizational problems.

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Results Driven 3 3

Decisiveness Exercises good judgment by making sound and well-informed decisions; perceives the impact and implications of decisions; makes effective and timely decisions, even when data are limited or solutions produce unpleasant consequences; is proactive and achievement oriented.

Customer Service Balancing interests of a variety of clients; readily readjusts priorities to respond to pressing and changing client demands. Anticipates and meets the need of clients; achieves quality end- products; is committed to continuous improvement of services.

Entrepreneurship Identifi es opportunities to develop and market new products and services within or outside of the organization. Is willing to take risks; initiates actions that involve a deliberate risk to achieve a recognized benefi t or advantage.

Technical Credibility

Understands and appropriately applies procedures, require- ments, regulations, and policies related to specialized expertise. Is able to make sound hiring and capital resource decisions and to address training and development needs. Understands link- ages between administrative competencies and mission needs.

■ Business Acumen

Competency Description

Financial Management Demonstrates broad understanding of principles of fi nancial management and marketing expertise necessary to ensure appropriate funding levels. Prepares, justifi es, and/or administers the budget for the program area; uses cost-benefi t thinking to set priorities; monitors expenditures in support of programs and policies. Identifi es cost-effective approaches. Manages procurement and contracting.

Human Resources Management

Assesses current and future staffi ng needs based on organi- zational goals and budget realities. Using merit principles, ensures staff is appropriately selected, developed, utilized, appraised and rewarded; takes corrective action.

Technology Management

Uses effi cient and cost-effective approaches to integrate technology into the workplace and improve program effectiveness. Develop strategies using new technology to enhance decision making. Understands the impact of technological change on the organization.

SOURCE: https://www.opm.gov/deu/Handbook_2003/DEOH-MOSAIC-5.asp

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