Public Policy Approach to Public Administration

We remember reading about the Wilsonian philosophy of public administration and the famous dichotomy of politics and administration. After Wilson, there were many authors like Frank J Goodnow, L D White and F. W. Willoughby who elaborated on the topic and reaffirmed the need to separate the political functions and administrative functions of the government. Willoughby went to the extent of calling public administration as the fourth branch of Government after legislative, executive and judiciary.

However, this politic-administration dichotomy theory lost it relevance after the Second World War. The writers, authors, academicians and subject matter experts finally awakened to the fact that administration of a government can never be free of political elements. They started protesting and writing against the separation of politics and administration as they could clearly see that both were horribly intertwined with one another and impossible to separate both in spirit and action.

After the Second World War, there was a renewed interest in the aspects of administration because of the practical encounters and alliances formed during the war, creation of international organizations and emergence of the developing countries. Also, after the war, the Government reinvented itself from a peace keeper and provider of services to become a Welfare State. The public expenditure in most parts of the world increased greatly after 1945 as the Governments started taking more and more initiatives for the welfare of the society. A lot of reforms were carried out in areas not just regarding the content of public policy but also the ways in which they were formulated.

This new approach gained momentum after 1970s when a lot of analysis started happening around the way the government policies affected the people. The Vietnam War and Watergate scandal in US, the Administrative Reforms Commission established in India in 1966, the initiative to reduce public expenditure in order to reduce direct taxation under Margaret Thatcher in 1979, the creation of the Malaysian Administrative and Management Planning Unit in 1977 in Malaysia were to name a few.

With changing times, the needs of the society have also changed and so has the role of the government and nature of its policies. The increase in the average age of the population has made the Government to look into the pension policies in the developed countries while the young illiterate population of the developing countries has forced their governments to come up with policies like Right to Education in India.

The irony of this public policy approach is that it encompasses many aspects of government functioning. The spectrum has become so broad that; to a student of public administration, it appears confused and spread all over. The other approaches that have clear segregation between the politics and administration were clearly distinguishable and easy to understand.

Many readers may also get dissuaded to realize that politics influence the policy making as well as the administration aspects of the way a Government functions. However with increasing number of stakeholders and pressure groups, the politics can be kept in check and the role of politician comes under scanner to dissuade any kind of strategic policy making to benefit only a few.


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