Public Administration

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The design of public programs that work is a critical topic today. We cannot solve the problems facing the country without learning how to design public programs that achieve their intended outcomes. The dissatisfaction and conflict now extending throughout the country are often fed by frustration and cynicism over past experiences.

Snapshot: Designing Public Programs That Work

It is possible to do better. Based on past research in public administration, new methods have been developed for analyzing programs. By considering how program actions lead to reactions by organizations and individuals, and how these actions and reactions combine to determine actual program outcomes, we can better learn what to expect. We can then move beyond the present critical failures in the public sector.

Edited by David H. Rosenbloom, the Distinguished Professor of Public Administration at the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, DC, and is currently servng as Chair Professor of Public Management, City University of Hong Kong. Scroll down for featured titles in the series or click here to learn more about the ASPA Series in Public Administration and Public Policy.


By Ferd H. Mitchell (ASPA member) and Cheryl C. Mitchell

The President Trump administration has begun an overt attack on the “administrative state”, charging that unelected officials are essentially writing new laws, making political decisions, and redirecting public programs according to their values. The field of public administration is under a type of pressure that has not been experienced in the past, and the future of the field will be determined by how administrators and faculty choose to respond.

There are three types of responses that may take place: administrators can simply “ride with the waves” and try to continue business as usual; attempt a counterattack and try to neutralize the pressures being experienced; or assess the situation and adapt as deemed most appropriate. The most effective response will likely involve a combination of these strategies. Administrators may try to continue some administrative activities unchanged despite pressures (passive resistance), try to push back wherever deemed important to protect specific activities (active resistance), and assess and adapt in order to respond to the situation that is being encountered.

It is essential to recognize that the future of public administration lies in the attitudes of the public toward the activities of government. Without public support, agencies will find themselves subject to constant charges that they are not serving a legitimate and valuable function. A combination of passive and active resistance can help maintain the stability of existing administrative operations, but may be a completely inadequate response to the changes now threatening to sweep the field. There is an urgent need to assess where public administration is today, consider the strengths and weaknesses of the field, and adapt in the most effective ways.

Without such a willingness to seek new ways for evaluating and dealing with the basic activities of the field, there is a real risk that public administration will become associated with an image of a behind-the-scenes, invisible and unaccountable government that does not operate in support of average people. It is important to be able to demonstrate that the field is a key positive means for creating public programs that work and contribute to everyone. There is a need to demonstrate in an effective way that public administration is a valuable and essential contributor to the welfare of the country.

For these reasons, assessment and adaptation will also be required if the field is to operate effectively and be recognized for its contributions.

We have described how the field of public administration may most effectively evolve and adapt in a time of constant change (Adaptive Administration, published by Routledge press). We have indicated how such approaches may be used to develop programs that work (Designing Public Programs That Work, Snapshot discussion, Routledge press). We have also demonstrated how these strategies may be used to evaluate proposed changes in Obamacare by drawing on lessons learned from the past.

We have proposed that all program designs and changes, and plans for program implementation, should explicitly include an analysis of the likely reactions by individuals and organizations to these changes. In this way, program outcomes will more closely reflect expectations, lead to more public satisfaction, and reduce widespread frustration with public programs. Only through such means will it be possible to improve recognition of those in the field, and counter charges that public administration is “part of the problem” with demonstrations of the value and relevance of an effective administrative state.

Ferd Mitchell and Cheryl Mitchell are actively involved in evaluating the challenges facing public administration today, with an emphasis on understanding how established procedures need to be adapted to fit today's urgent situations. Ferd holds MPA and DPA degrees from the University of Southern California, while Cheryl Mitchell holds an MPA from Golden Gate University. Ferd and Cheryl are both attorneys, and they practice together as married partners at Mitchell Law Office in Spokane, WA.

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