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The Six Pillars Of Public Administrations Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3914 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The dichotomy of politics and administration is a model representing the idea that a division is required between the political realm and the field of public administration. As explained by Waldo (1984), there are two early public administration scholars that are credited with the dichotomy: Woodrow Wilson and Frank Goodnow. Although Wilson and Goodnow’s work was not identical, they both advocated for a strict explanation of the dichotomy. Wilson and Goodnow’s ideologies regarding the relationship between politics and public administration have served as fundamentally important for developing this essay. This brief discussion about the dichotomy of politics and public administration will include why scholars like Wilson and Goodnow believed it was necessary to separate politics and administration and treat them as two separate fields of study.

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Wilson’s theory evolved during a time when politics was associated with corrupt behavior. Many citizens wanted a more professionally based bureaucracy that would be held to higher levels of accountability versus being controlled by politics. These ideas were clearly communicated in Madison’s Federalist No. 10. Madison (1787) described the relationship between politics and administration by explaining that a factious spirit had tainted America’s public administration. Wilson reinforced the ideas of the founding fathers in The Study of Administration. Wilson (1886) expanded on Madison’s ideas explaining that the bureaucracy needed to be more businesslike with civil servants providing services that were nonpartisan. In The Study of Administration, Wilson (1886) states that, “Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices” (210).

With the latter quote being stated by Wilson, public administration should be considered a science irrelevant from any type of political coercion when it comes to things like decision making, policy, and public service. Bureaucracies all share a common goal and this is to provide services that benefit the overall public good; however, it is nearly impossible to completely separate politics from administration. For example, policies are often designed and implemented due to public sentiment. The number goal of a politician is to get re-elected; therefore, elected officials cannot ignore public opinion. Policies are written and passed by elected officials and then implemented by public agencies. Programs created by policies often die at the implementation phase because bureaucrats hold the power with providing optimal levels of implementation. One of the reasons programs are not properly implemented can be attributed to the fact that many bureaucrats may deliberately administer poor implementation due to a program being contradictive to their political beliefs.

Goodnow (1900) took a realistic approach to the dichotomy explaining that politics and administration needed to be two separate functions but, simultaneously, politics would never be completely separate from administration. Goodnow’s beliefs are demonstrated in the policy and implementation synopsis provided in the previous paragraph. America’s bureaucracies today are not as corrupt as they were during the time Madison vocalized his views in the Federalist Papers. Thanks to extensive empirical research and social science theories, the field of public administration is based on efficiency, accountability to the public, and effectiveness. It would be unreasonable to assume that political coercion does not still plague public administrators on occasion because politics will also play a role in public administration.

Responsible public administrator

When researching the topic of Responsibility in the realm of Public Administration, one encounters a very extensive literature base regarding the importance and reasons for responsible civil servants. Exploring the topic of responsibility and its significance in the field of public service reveals a strong connection between all of the pillars of public administration. Public administrators are held accountable by the public and they cannot act on their own accord because they are held responsible to the officials who have been elected by the public. Elected officials determine the course of action of public servants and this fact is highly relevant to the dichotomy of politics and public administration (Finer, 1941, p. 335). In order for public servants to be responsible, they must adhere to certain values and principles which make them efficient, legitimate, and representative of social equity. Svara(2007) has stated “the highest duty of public administrators is to embrace a broad set of obligations and responsibilities that promote the public interest, demonstrate character, advance justice, and seek the greatest good.”

Gaus (1953) explained the relationship that is created for the responsible public servant between the other pillars by stating that, “The contribution of the United States to the idea of responsibility in administration was made by requiring the chief executive-and later many minor executives-to submit directly or indirectly to popular vote” (432). The general public elects officials to represent them and protect them to a certain extent. As explained in the dichotomy, there are two sides to public administration. In regards to responsibility, legislators and politicians have the responsibility of designing policies to address social issues in an attempt of solving issues. The administrative side of the responsibility has to do with implementation of the policies designed by elected officials.

The relationship between chief executives and other elected officials and the bureaucracy is clearly demonstrated in the nature of punitive policies. For example, legislators designed policies that place restrictions on speed limits. In order to keep roads and highways safe, reckless driving behaviors must be curtailed and this is done through punitive policies. Drivers that violate the speed limit know they are at risk to be cited and subject to fines and jail time; therefore, it may be tempting to speed but policies are enforced by public administrators to deter this behavior. In this case scenario, street-level bureaucrats are the primary civil servants that are responsible for the implementation of punitive policies. This is a perfect example to illustrate how the decisions made by elected officials, impact the daily work operations of public service. Administrators are responsible for carrying out proper implementation of polices.

Finer (1941) made it clear that there is a distinction between policy design and policy execution. This is where public administrators have the most power in their responsibilities. They are the ones responsible for policy execution and it is clearly stated in the literature that implementation is the most importance stage of the policy process. A policy is only as strong as its implementation and many die at this level because of irresponsible public administrators. Ethical issues can arise in this area because administrators may neglect to implement a policy or a program created by an elected official because they do not agree with it or have a hidden agenda. In regards to the link between public administration and the pillars, “administration is not less important to democratic government than administrative efficiency; it is even a contributor to efficiency in the long run” (Finer, 1941, p. 335). When a public administrator acts responsibly, they have a higher chance of exhibiting ethical behavior and ultimately producing efficiency.


Legitimacy of the administrative state is contingent upon several factors. In the event that administrative agencies provide ample, equitable opportunities for public involvement, legitimacy is being carried out. There must also be opportunities for empirical research and decision making in order to accomplish legitimacy in the state. All of the pillars are intertwined with legitimacy. In order for a state to be considered legitimate, their power has to be accepted by the general public; therefore, in order to achieve this broad scope of power a state must be efficient, ethical, serve the public good, be representative, accountable to the public, effective, and responsible to elected officials. According to Dr. Beaumaster, the person who has the authority and power is legitimate (2010). Legitimacy Power is derived from authority; authority is derived from legitimacy; legitimacy is a moral or normative standing. So whenever that person makes an unethical decision, this will reflect in his power and he may lose it.

Public organizations can often be affected by their internal and external environments, especially new organizations. It is not uncommon for a new organization to become vulnerable when resources are lost or they have not successfully obtained strong support from their environment (Rainey, 2003, p. 359). Consumer preferences and public sentiment always affect business and this is applicable in both the public and private sectors; however, public agencies face bigger issues with legitimacy because they are held highly accountable to the public. For example, the issue of raising taxes is always a contentious decision for elected officials because the public can show adamant opposition to paying higher taxes. Rainey (2003) explains that when voters resist taxes, governments face analogous problems (359). “Public and oversight authorities often impose stricter criteria on public organizations for honest, legitimate behaviors” (Rainey, 2003, p. 359).

Expanding on the last quote, an example of illegitimate behavior in a bureaucracy would be an elected official using coercive power on a public servant in order to get something accomplished. Abuse of power is an age-old problem in bureaucracies. In the event an individual were granted a prestigious position in government based solely on being from a prominent family, their appointment to the position would constitute as illegitimate. There were accusations of coercive power and bureaucratic appointments that were not legitimate during the George W. Bush administration (Maitland, 1989, p.11).

To increase and ensure legitimate practices in government and to secure a legitimate administrative state, Peffer (2008) suggests that public servants must be recruited that possess expertise, values, virtue, leadership, and vision. Government agencies should focus on recruiting the best and the brightest managers and employees but public servants must develop a direct relationship with citizens in order to be completely legitimate. Research shows that the bureaucracy has to be legitimate in practice not just in theory (Peffer, 2008, p. 1). When all of the pillars of public administration are combined, they are likely to produce legitimacy which creates stability within the state.

There are four sources to gain legitimacy; constitution, legal, public perception, and professionalism The legal is the primary source because it is the thing that can prove that you have something such as school diploma verifies that you earn a degree from that school. The secondary legal source of legitimacy is constitution because the constitution is used to determine the legitimacy of anybody that has an authority position. Third is public perception. The perception of someone regardless their position in society makes them legitimate in some level (Beaumaster, 2009).


The goal of public service is to provide the greatest amount of public good for the least amount of money. The public depends on governments to provide high quality services; therefore, public servants are held highly accountable by the constituents they serve. Accountability is a fundamental element of public administration is linked with the other pillars. Accountability requires ethical decision making, equal representation, legitimacy, efficiency, effectiveness, responsibility, and accountability is intertwined with the dichotomy of politics and public administration, as well. Public servants are held accountable by both the public and the elected officials. A rational civilization can only be organized and achieved through accountable behaviors carried out legislatively, judicially, and administratively (Ashworth, 2001, p. 163).

Accountability in the public sector is a bigger issue than in private sectors of business. It is a fact that “public managers and organizations remain accountable to various authorities and interests and to the rule of law in general” (Rainey, 2003, p. 96). Private sector industries have one goal and that is usually monetary profit. The goals of public agencies are typically quite different. Providing the public good and carrying out the will of the public is a very vague goal and one that is an ambitious endeavor, as well. With this being stated, public agencies are held accountable to a wider range of people than private sector businesses. Representativeness is highly related to accountability because it refers to the multitude of ways elected officials must represent their citizens (Rainey, 2003, p. 97). Through being chosen to represent a locality or a state government or even national government, public officials are held accountable. The dichotomy of politics and public administration should be highly transparent here.

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According to the literature, there are different types of accountability. The types of accountability are: Hierarchical, legal, professional, and political. Rainey (2003) defined hierarchical and legal accountability as having increased levels of control. With hierarchical and legal accountability, it is less likely that a bureaucrat would be granted large levels of discretionary decision making power. Decision making would likely evolve from top-level executives within the organizations. One will find decreased levels of control with professional and political accountability. Administrators may be granted the discretionary decision making power to decide whether or not a response is wise to an external influence (Rainey, 2003, p. 96). Accountability is a serious element of Public Administration. For example, many researchers believe that the episode with the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 can be attributed to group think (Forest, 1995, p. 1). Group think falls under the category of professional accountability. In the situation of the Challenger explosion, accountability issues resulted in taking the lives of seven people.

Public administrators are often confronted with unethical situations where they are forced to make the right decisions in order to abide by their accountability standards for carrying out the good of the public. It is important to remain accountable to the public and to the elected officials one serves without compromising integrity in order to achieve career advancement or to not hinder career advancement (Ashworth, 2001, p. 153). Public organizations do not have the luxury that private businesses enjoy because their daily operations and files are open to the public. The public must be promised accessibility in order to garner trust from constituents. Accountability is a large realm of public administration that encompasses many aspects of public service.


According to Dr. Beaumaster (2010), representation deals with who is going to represent “the will of the people.” Are they those who are elected by the people themselves? Representation is not the cornerstone of public administration but it is the cornerstone of our entire government system. So the people chose who is going to be responsible and accountable for the country and them. According to Jefferson, “power came from the land and from the people” (cited in Kettl, 2002). So without people, the government has no power.

The jobs of public administrators often require the pursuit of consistency in order to achieve stability. But the role of the elected official can be somewhat different because the politician is the person that has been chosen to represent the public. Ashworth (2001) explains that politicians tend to seek change and new accommodations in an attempt to impress their constituents for the purpose of gaining re-election. Politicians often want to sweep out the old and bring in the new, whereas public administrators want to tinker with existing programs and make incremental changes in an attempt to improve public service, (Ashworth, 2001, p.11). It should be evident that the goals of politicians and public administrators are different in nature. Those innate differences are what create the issue with representation in public administration.

Representation is a classic issue in government and public administration and more recently is has garnered significant attention because of affirmative action programs, equal employment opportunity policies, and a growing trend towards increased representation on diverse populations (Rainey, 2003, p. 97). Representativeness is the pillar of public administration that refers to the ways elected officials can represent their citizens and these different ways are what mold and shape the responsibilities of a public servant. Elected officials tend to determine the way the needs of their citizens are represented and this illustration of how the dichotomy of politics and public administration works. In regards to the pillars of public administration, they are all interconnected with representativeness. In order to be adequately representative of a targeted population, a public servant must exhibit ethical behaviors, be responsive to needs, produce efficient results, and obtain high levels of legitimacy.

Rainey (2003) explains that there are two types of representation: passive and active. Rainey explains that active representation occurs when members of a group actually serve as advocates for the group in decisions about programs and policies (97). Passive representation simply refers to situations where members of a group are simply present in a government entity or agency. The difference between the two types of representation was imperative to explain because the type often determines the values, goals, and mission of an agency.

The type of representation that is decided upon has potential to create contention. Conflicting values and criteria often present challenges for public managers. Furthermore, external authorities and political actors intervene in management decisions in pursuit of responsiveness and accountability, and impose structures and constraints on the pursuit of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness. Rainey (2003) made it known that sharp conflicts over which values should predominate-professional effectiveness or political accountability, for example-lead to major transformations of organizational operations and culture (98). Anytime an agency is influenced by external sources to change or alter their value system, for example, issues are likely to arise. All of the information presented in this essay explains the issue with representation.

Efficiency and effectiveness

In the early days of public administration, government was corrupt. Politicians exercised coercive powers in order to get tasks accomplished. In an attempt to deter corruption in government, an emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness evolved. Efficiency and effectiveness are considered as criterion to measure performance in government. Performance measures are proof of successes and failures in social programs. Public administration researcher, Fried (1976) considered efficiency to be one of the major performance criteria for public bureaucracy in America today. James Madison discussed in the Federalist Papers that dividing government into three branches was a way to place a checks and balances system on powers (Rainey, 2003, p. 94). Madison’s ideologies explain how demands for efficiency and effectiveness started. Performance criteria deter corruptive, unethical behaviors in government. Too much political control would not enable public administrations to operate effectively and efficiently; therefore, agencies would not be able to accomplish the objectives associated with the other pillars of administration.

The overall goal of public agencies is rooted in the definition of efficiency. Efficiency has been defined in the literature as producing a good or service at the lowest cost possible while maintaining a constant level of quality (Rainey, 2003, p. 95). The general public holds public servants accountable and responsible for bringing this goal to fruition. Public servants are expected to illustrate competency in their work and incompetent values do not play a role in efficiency and effectiveness. Former United States President, Bill Clinton, launched the National Performance Review in response to inefficient government. Clinton’s attempt to streamline government resulted in 324,000 government jobs being eliminated (Rainey, 2003, p. 95).

Efficiency and effectiveness can be hindered by unethical behavior. Public administrators play the most important role in program and policy implementation. Efficient implementation is imperative for producing effectiveness. If efficient, competent behaviors have not been engaged in, a program or policy evaluation is likely to reveal incompetence. Law enforcement agents, commonly referred to street-level bureaucrats, are granted massive levels of discretionary decision making power. In the event they chose to not implement a policy handed down from a high-level executive, they are not being accountable, responsive, efficient, legitimate, or effective. Hypothetically speaking, if a police officer pulls someone over for speeding and makes the decision to let the driver go and not write a citation they are exhibiting incompetent behaviors. Incompetency leads to inefficient policies that are not effective. If a policy is not enforced by the bureaucracy, it may be deemed as useless.

Measuring effectiveness often presents obstacles for public agencies. Bureaucracies are often burdened with the choice of whether to measure effectiveness using subjective measures or objective measures (Rainey, 2003, p. 136). This poses a problem because agencies do not always produce measurements that are tangible; therefore, many agencies may measure effectiveness through profits and productivity (Rainey, 2003, p. 136). Mott (1972) studied effectiveness in public agencies by requesting that managers rate the quantity, quality, efficiency, adaptability, and flexibility of their departmental units. Mott’s study is representative of how organizations may combine both a qualitative and quantitative approach to measuring effectiveness. If an agency proves effectiveness, it is highly likely that public administrators have engaged in efficient strategies to implement programs and policies.


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