Woodrow Wilson’s Vision on Public Administration

Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of USA (1913-1921) and is often addressed as the father of American Public Administration. Wilson and his contribution to the subject of public administration is widely read and referred to. He was one of the first political leaders who emphasized the need to increase the efficiency of the Government.

Wilson argued that administration is the most obvious part of the Government and the least discussions happen around it. He further says that despite being the executive, the operative and the most visible side of the Government and being as old as the Government itself it has remain hidden from the scrutiny and inspection of writer, authors and subject matter experts where it should have been the centre of debates and researches. He shows little appreciation towards the obsession regarding the constitution of Government, the philosophical approach towards the existence of State, the sovereignty or some greater meaning lying at the heart of the Government. Basically what he meant was the know-how of the actual business of Governing people and how that can be made more efficient.

In the context of the early 20th century USA and the world in general, Wilson and his ideas regarding administration made sense. Life had changed much since the good old days of farms and cattle and now there were complexities of trade and commerce, stocks and bonds and financers and then the national debts, the ever increasing conflicts between the capitalist class and the workers. In the light of these developments, ways the Government can function also needed a change which unfortunately was not assessed adequately resulting in inefficiency and wastage of resources.

In addition to above aspects, the Government’s sphere of work was expanding, like the postal service in America and rail-road lines in Europe. So, if the transition was happening at the grass root level say for example to manage rail-road, national commissioners were made in addition to older state commissioners, the resulting extension of administrative function became a matter which needed to be delicately handled and not carried out in haste.

Wilson also clarified that the studies conducted in the field of public administration were mostly carried out by French and German academicians and were therefore not entirely relevant and suited to the needs of the American people and State in its original form. He suggested that any principle adopted from Europe would have to be Americanized and modified for the complex and multiform state and a highly decentralized form of Government in the USA.

Wilson had carefully studied the administrative practices of not just France and England but a small nation like Prussia and praised the ruler Frederick the Great who regarded himself as the chief servant of the people and his office as a public trust. He also wrote favorably of Napoleon and his recasting of French administration after ending the monarchial rule. He however; wrote harshly about the ways of English administrators and those of his own country; pointing out that their history was not of administrative development but of legislative oversight. There were little progress made in Government organizations but vast leaps taken in law making and political criticism.

While reading Wilson one cannot help but wonder that whether enthroning public opinion in the matters of Government a wise decision at all? The dark side of it is that it becomes a larger obstacle to manage; since any change or reform proposed needs to get pass veto at so many levels. To sum up, Wilson proposed a very no-nonsense and businesslike approach to administration which should be free of shackles of political doctrines.


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