Nature and Scope of Public Administration

Bureaucracy is not an obstacle to democracy but an inevitable complement to it.

Joseph A. Schumpeter

The above quote by Schumpeter can call for a heated debate on its relevance and credence. However there is no denying that bureaucracy; since a couple of centuries or so; has been an integral part of the Government, the State the people and the way they function with each other.

Public administration is the single most important aspect of bureaucracies across the world; be it a democratic, socialist or a capitalist state, more so in a socialist state, as all aspects of the citizen life are influenced and decided by the government.

There has been considerable shift in the way the public administration was carried out in ancient and medieval times when the initiatives were nothing more than sporadic administrative functions like maintaining law and order and collecting revenues with little or no welfare activities. The people who carried out those activities were selected by the monarchs and were no better than their personal servants.

With changing times, the objective of public administration also underwent a change and by the nineteenth century; an organized approach to public servants and public administration was adopted. This approach was based on an exhaustive legal framework replacing the patriarchal and hereditary function with bureaucracy.

The advent of this new approach to public administration happened due to many reasons. The foremost being the Industrial revolution. With Industrial Revolution, the Government forayed into trade and commerce; which was followed by Imperialism, Nationalism and Internationalism which added on to the widening avenues of Government duties and responsibilities.

The times today are again vastly different from what existed a century ago and once again the scope of public administration has also undergone a shift, it’s difficult to decide whether it is paradigm or not. However, the increasing awareness amongst people especially in the developing countries [for e.g. The Right to Information Act or RTI act in India] and an acquired knowledge of rights, privileges and laws amongst the people of developed countries[for e.g. the debates on The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010] have thrown new challenges for the public administrators and policy makers.

The demand for unified national services, the conflicting interests between the various economic sections of the society and with global migration and subsequently globalization; the protection of the interests of the multi-ethnic groups of the society have kept the public administrators occupied.

Administration matters so much because it is not enough to make policies and laws on paper. The interpretation and translation of those policies and laws into actions and carrying them out is the difficult part. The public administrators therefore have to play an important role in running the government as machinery. Bureaucracy has often been sneered and ridiculed at but if the administrative work is stopped, nothing really would be happening.

In almost all the countries the number of people employed in public administration work is appalling like in USA the figure roughly stands at 2036000 civilians excluding the employees of Congress and Federal courts, in England the figure runs into several thousands and in India the civil services exam itself draws lakhs and lakhs of applicants while the selection percentage is meager [for e.g the 2006 numbers for selection in the UPSC was 383983 applicants and 474 actually recommended for posts.]

The various important roles that public administration plays, the most important one are implementing laws and policies and acting as their adjudicators. It is therefore important that the reader approaches the study of public administration with an open mind and without prejudices to appreciate the full nature, role, importance and relevance of the bureaucracy.


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