What is Public Administration?

The activities and operations of the government include, among other things, policy formulation and execution; provision of  various public services (education, health care, housing, welfare, etc) ; enactment and enforcement of laws; conducting diplomacy and international relations; planning,  implementation and evaluation of development programmes and projects; providing defence and internal security; tax collection; administration of justice; administration of social security; financial and personnel administration.

Other definitions of Public Administration are the following:

Scope of Public Administration

The POSDCORB View of Administration

Luther Gulick and L. Urwick (1937) , two prominent social scientists, sum up the various aspects of the scope of public administration in the acronym ( perkataan yang terbentuk daripada huruf-huruf awal) POSDCORB. It contains the first letters of seven administrative activities or functions of management.  POSDCORB stands for the following managerial tasks:

P - Planning : It means  deciding in advance the various activities to be carried out and the methods of implementing them.

O - Organizing : It means establishing the formal structure of authority for the effective execution of the planned activities and the achievement of pre-determined objectives.

S - Staffing : It includes the entire personnel function of recruitment of suitable persons and training of staff for specific job functions.

D - Directing : It means  leading the organizing by making decisions and issuing orders and instructions to the staff for guiding them in their work.

Co - Coordinating: It means interrelating the various units of the organization and work processes to achieve the purposes of the organization.

R - Reporting : It involves keeping  both the superiors and  subordinates informed of what is going on through inspections, reports, research  and records.

B - Budgeting: It includes financial planning, accounting, auditing and control.

We could sum up the scope of public administration this way:

Characteristics of Public Administration

a.      It is concerned with implementing government policies and programmes.

b.      It delivers various services various services to the public.

c.      It has a system of rules and regulations, laws, procedures, policies and  hierarchical structures.

d.     It covers all the three branches of government- namely, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.

e.     It manages and coordinates all the activities of the government at all levels.

f.      It is governed by the principles of accountability, neutrality,  transparency (ketelusan) , impartiality, anonymity  and ethical


g.    It is funded by the government every to carry out all activities of the government. Its yearly allocations  are approved by the


h.    It is the action part of government- i.e. it is  involved in decision-making, delivering services, managing financial and human

       resources to achieve the objectives of the government.

i.     The personnel are recruited and promoted on the basis of merit and seniority.

j.      It is service-oriented.

k.     It is an instrument of social change and economic development.

l.      It is under the control of the political executive.

Private Versus   Private (Business) Administration

Similarities (Persamaan)

Some important similarities between public and private administration may be noted as follows:

a.  Both public and private administration are practical and provide people such common services as public utilities, social services and scientific and technical services.

b.  They both use the same management processes, such as planning, organizing, decision-making and problem-solving, leading, controlling and so on.

c.  They make use of certain common skills such as account-keeping, records-maintaining, compiling statistics and analysing them and auditing.

d.  The element of hierarchically-arranged bureaucracy is found in both public and business organizations.

 Differences (Perbezaan)

Despite the foregoing similarities, there are significant differences between public and private administration. These may be stated as follows:

a.  Public administration is service-oriented whereas business administration is profit-driven. The various government departments and other public agencies provide various services to the people regardless of financial profit; its purpose is to promote the welfare of the people. By contrast, the major aim of business administration is to make profits for the owners of the business.

b.  Many of the services provided by public administration are monopolistic (bersifat monopoli). For example, law-making; managing public utilities, maintaining army, etc. In these and many other public activities, the government has no real competition. On the contrary (sebaliknya),  in most industries private business firms cannot escape competition. A business firm has to compete with  (bersaing dengan) other firms producing similar products or substitutes.

c.  The performance or achievements of public administration cannot be measured on monetary terms or by profit criteria. The services provided by the public agencies are aimed at promoting the welfare and well-being of  the people. Therefore, the evaluation of such social services in relation to the costs incurred on them is difficult.  But, in the case of business administration, a firm's performance can be measured easily by the  profits earned or loss incurred (kerugian yang dialami)  by it.

d.   The public administrator is required to observe the principle of equality and impartiality  in his dealings with the public. He cannot show any discrimination against any person. The business administrator, on the other hand, is not under any legal  obligation to maintain consistency of treatment in his dealings with the people.  It may be poor business sense if the small and the large customers are treated alike.

e.   Public administration operates within the legal framework. The activities of public administrators are governed by strict laws, rules and regulations. Public administrators cannot carry our activities which are not authorized by law. In other words, they operate under legal  restraints.  By contrast, business administration is relatively free from such legal constraints. The business executives are generally  free to select  and implement those activities that bring more profits for their organization.

f.    Public administration is both complex and large-scale administration. No private company can equal its size and diversity (kepelbagaian)  of its activities. Government employs millions of people. Its customers are the people themselves who are both tax-payers and beneficiaries (yang mendapat manfaat)  of public services.  On the other hand, even a large private firm has a very limited public - the suppliers of material and equipment and the buyers of its products. Its employees are also limited in number. The scope of the activities of the government is more comprehensive and diverse than those of private business organisations.

g.   Public administration is political while business administration is non-political. Public administration functions not only under political direction but also according to the directions given by the legislature and elected political leaders. On the contrary, no business firm functions under political control or direction.  A business firm largely functions under the influence of market conditions.

Role  of Public Administration in the Modern State

(i) An instrument for providing services

Public administration is mainly concerned with the delivery of various services to the public. It protects the life and property of the people by maintaining internal security and order. It defends the nation against external aggression. It provides a number of services to the people (such as  health care, education, welfare benefits, social security, housing, public utilities, etc). The various services provided by public administration affect the life of every citizen from the cradle to the grave. In fact, it is not possible for us to enjoy the various services of the government if there is no public administration.

(ii) An instrument for implementing public policies

Modern governments formulate and adopt  several policies and laws. But these policies and  laws are merely printed papers. It is public administration that translates these paper declarations and intentions into reality. Thus, it converts words into action, form into substance. Be implementing these laws and policies, it delivers promised benefits to the people and regulates their behaviour.

(iii) A stabilising force in society

Public administration maintains social unity and harmony and the stability of social institutions by solving social problems. It provides an element of continuity (kesinambungan) when governments change often in a country. Governments may come and governments may go, but administration goes on forever. It survives even revolutions. In any state the bureaucracy carries on with  the government  even though the rulers change every now and then. In our country, the administrative organization that was developed by the British before independence has continued even after independence, with some changes.

(iv) An instrument of social change and economic development.

Public administration acts as an instrument of social change and economic development. The role of public administration as a change agent is particularly important in developing nations. The immediate tasks of public administrators  are to eliminate poverty, unemployment  and great disparities of wealth and achieve economic growth and equitable distribution of wealth. They have to work hard to implement industrialization and modernization  programmes and resolve problems faced by the people. To achieve economic prosperity and realise the social welfare goals they have resorted to economic planning. All these have placed challenging tasks on public administration. Public bureaucracies in the developing nations must be competent and free from corruption in order to meet the challenges of economic development and to effect social change. They must be both task-oriented and goal-oriented. Only then they can bring about  economic transformation.

Reasons for the growing importance of public administration

(a) Scientific and Technological Developments

The impact of scientific discoveries, inventions and advances in information and communication technology  on public administration is very great. These developments have led to revolutionary changes in many fields, such as transportation, communication, agriculture, trade, etc. these in turn have made 'big government' possible. 'Big government' means vast increase in the scope of public administration. in other words, the explosion of science and technology has placed new and heavy responsibilities and challenges on public administration.

(b) Economic Planning

Another factor that accounts for the growing importance of public administration is the concept of planning introduced by modern  governments throughout the world. To spur economic growth, they have undertaken several transformation programmes. It is the public administrators who formulate long-term and perspective development plans and programmes and implement them. This is so because the administrators have the necessary skills, experience and expertise for plan formulation. These responsibilities have widened the scope of public administration.

(c) Concept of Welfare State

A Welfare State is a social service state. it is a positive state which takes  the responsibility to provide conditions of good life for  all citizens.  It is concerned with the welfare of the citizens 'from the  womb to the tomb.'  The ever-increasing demands on public administration for more and more services  provides challenges to public administrators to be responsive to the needs of the people in an effective manner. They plan and  implement protective, regulatory, economic, social welfare and nation-building activities. in other words, the positive welfare state acts as a protector, a dispenser of social services, a manager of key industries and a controller and regulator of private economic activities in the interest of socio-economic justice. This change in the political philosophy of the state has greatly increased the role and significance (kepentingan) of public administration.

(d)  Population Growth

The enormous  increase in the population of most countries has also led to the increasing importance of public administration. Population growth has complicated the problem providing necessities of life such as food, housing and welfare services. Population explosion particularly in urban areas has posed acute social and economic problems, such as congestion, squatters, lack of housing,  transportation problem, increasing crime rates  and so on. All these problems created by the growth of population have to be tackled by pubic administrators.

Politics/ Policy - Administration Dichotomy

The early study of public administration in the USA towards the end of the nineteenth century was based on the  politics/policy - administration dichotomy theory. ('Dichotomy' means "Separation  (pemisahan) or division into two.") According to this theory, policy-making is the business of politics and policy-implementation is the business of administration. While the elected legislators represent politics, the politically- neutral /non-political bureaucrats (civil servants) represent administration. The theory was developed on the basis of the functional distinction between  "political" activity and "administrative" activity in public administration. It was also largely influenced by the separation of powers enshrined (termaktub) in the American Constitution. Another reason for the development of this  theory  was  the concern of the early writers to keep politics out of administration and to develop the theory of administration on scientific lines.

The beginnings of the politics-administration dichotomy theory could be traced back to  the famous essay, "The study of Administration" (1887) written by Woodrow Wilson, the father or founder of the discipline of public administration. In his essay, the US scholar and statesman, stressed the need for developing an administrative system "removed from the hurry and strife of politics."  To quote his words: "........ Administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics.  Administrative  questions are not political questions..... The field of administration is a field of business." He suggested that there is a clear difference between 'administration and politics' ; they are not the same.

However, it was  Prof. Frank J. Goodnow who is associated with the theory of "Politics-Administration  Dichotomy." In his book, "Politics and Administration" (1990), Goodnow supported the view of Woodrow Wilson and elaborated on the distinction (perbezaan)  between politics and administration. According to him, "Politics has to do with policies or expressions  of the state will (kehendak negara),  while administration has to do with the execution of these policies." In other words, politics is about policy-making and administration concerns policy-execution. In short, policy-making is the business of politics and policy implementation is the business of administration. This means that administration has no role to play in policy-making, and is limited to only policy execution. Elected lawmakers represent politics and politically-neutral bureaucrats and technocrats represent administration.

This theory has been rejected by most scholars (para sarjana). It is no longer valid (sah). Scholars like Appleby, Simon and Waldo are of  the view that there is no clear separation between politics and administration. Public administration is policy-making and is part of the political process. In other words, public administration contributes to both the formulation and execution of policies. We can say that in the modern world public administrators, particularly the senior officers, play an important role in the policy-making process. they identify problems and issues affecting the nation, carry out research and studies, find alternative  strategies to resolve problems, initiate and prepare policies and laws for submission to the political executive for consideration. They also advise the political executive on national issues and policies.

Peter Johnson 2010 - 2014