Organizational Aspects of Public Administration Research Paper

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Public administration is the term used to define the formal procedural and organizational arrangements under which public employees serve a government, by implementing and advising on policy, and managing resources. Organizational aspects refer to both the overall structures and relationships within public administrations. This could include: The organizations that make up a civil service, sometimes referred to as the machinery of government; internal organizational arrangements; and/or organizational behavior. Thus, organizational aspects can be studied in a broad sense, or within several defined fields. This contribution covers organizational aspects, widely interpreted.

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Beyond public administration as a discrete body of knowledge, organizational aspects can be examined further through other theories and practices relating to, for example, political science, public policy, sociology, economics, and management. In this sense, each area of study has its own theories and concepts. Furthermore, each state has its own history, organizational form, and approach, although there are many universal, common elements, which have developed through the international transfer of ideas. New governments, formal review processes, focused research, and events have often stimulated notable change. Therefore, the area of public administration is a difficult area to research, and over the years studies have been largely descriptive, rather than experimental or empirical.

For the purpose of this research paper, organizational aspects of public administration are examined as four phases of development and evolution, representing important paradigm shifts, or prospective shifts. These are the premodern, modern, postmodern, and virtual supranational phases. Critical issues relating to the theories, models, trends, and practices of organizational aspects of public administration during these times are explored.

1. Premodern Public Administration, Organizational Aspects (Pre-1850s)

The organizational aspects of public administration have been apparent from ancient times, through many civilizations, such as Greek, Roman, and Chinese dynasties, and have often been the subject of criticism and analysis. Indeed, the ancient Greek satirist and playwright Aristophanes was probably one of the earliest in the literate world to highlight the lack of accountability and fairness in relation to public office. The works of ancient philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, address pertinent issues of interest in this regard.

Military histories over many years from the ancient Greeks and Romans to Machiavelli, to Frederick the Great, and to Napoleon provide further insights into the evolution of organizational aspects of public administration. For example, in the 1700s, in the context of militarism and empire building, the Prussian leader, Frederick the Great, and his successor,

Frederic William III, structured an exemplary public administration. Furthermore, France’s public administration, which had been evolving for centuries through constitutional reform following the French Revolution of 1789, was organized on the basis of similarly functioning districts, or departements. In the late 1700s to early 1800s, Napoleon oversaw the central appointment of officials charged with the administrative responsibility for the departements. He also developed bodies which undertook administrative review, and involved the separation of juridical and public administrative powers. The civil service was made up of a number of distinct corps supported by training schools.

In the context of royalty, an early patronage system of public administration developed in England, primarily, as a support function for the royal Anglo-Saxon courts. The later structuring of a distinct, centralized public administration was related to a concept of a parliamentary cabinet. Some senior government ministers had portfolio responsibilities and a small supporting staff. Separate departments eventually existed to provide administrative functions to the ministers in charge of the Treasury, the Exchequer, the Chancellery, and the State. Accountabilities of the ministers were divided, between the Parliament and the monarch. While ministers undertook many of the administrative duties because of a general lack of suitably qualified men [sic], a small, elite corps of public administrators was established with a resultant continuity of tenure from government to government. To a small extent, these public administrations served a legitimate purpose, but for the most part they existed to meet the needs and ends of the administrators themselves.

Some of the public administration ideas from Europe were also adopted in New World states. In the USA, in the context of a revolutionary federal constitution which came after the War of Independence, their early patronage system was based on political connections, rather than royalty or class. Not surprisingly, these arrangements meant that the administrative organizations of government became highly corrupted, as Woodrow Wilson observed (1887). The dissatisfaction with this type of system, and a promoted interest in reform processes, led to the eventual development of professional public administrations in many states.

1.1 Modern Public Administration, Organizational Aspects (1850s–1970s)

Organizational aspects of public administration continued to evolve because of constitutional and parliamentary reform processes and, in some cases, shifts from royal courts to representative governments. The industrial revolution, the rise of capitalism, and the new bourgeoisie all contributed to pressures for professional civil services. Thus, in modern times, organizational aspects of public administration have been based largely on the need for professionalism and have often come about because of administrative review.

In Britain, for example, the Northcote–Trevelyan Report (1853) recommended major changes in civil service recruitment and other processes. Fundamental to the changes was the establishment of a central Board of Public Administration, which eventually became a Civil Service Commission in 1870. The Board was responsible for the competitive recruitment, based on merit, of professional civil servants, and their appointment to departments; it was largely independent of government. From an organizational aspect, the idea of a central and independent agency of government responsible for recruitment and other personnel matters was instituted from that time. The best educated men [sic] with knowledge of history, classics, language, and mathematics were appointed to the service. Three classes of civil servant also applied: the elite administrative classes; clerical support classes; and the technical or professional classes.

In the USA, European and British theories and practices continued to influence reform of public administration, especially through the Civil Service (Pendleton) Act of 1883. However, there was a determination, as Woodrow Wilson (1887) notes, to ‘Americanize’ the system. The state was regarded as an instrument of social cooperation, and a more bureaucratic public administration structure was needed to manage the state. However, there was always a fundamental rejection that the senior administration could perform in a non-partisan way. This meant that there were dual streams of career civil servants and political appointees at the high levels of the civil service. Therefore, it was recognized that there was a blurred delineation between the political and public administration environments. High-level entry requirements were embedded into the career civil service, and a political education was favored as the main qualification. Taylor’s (1912) theory of scientific management and related developments in the field were promoted as appropriate models of organization and work distribution.

Another major contributor to the evolution of ideas about public administration and organizational aspects was the German economist and sociologist, Max Weber. Weberian principles of bureaucracy have had a universal impact on the organizational aspects of public administration. These principles included the matching of fixed job responsibilities to defined, permanent positions; a hierarchy of official authority; the requirement for appointed, suitably qualified, and anonymous staff with continuity of tenure until retirement; recognition that high level appointments bring social status; and entitlement for a salary and a retirement pension (Weber 1946).

As an example of Weber’s force, his ideas were evident as far away as Japan. Public administration and organizational aspects were based largely on German bureaucracy and Weberian principles, with other local attributes. This included the preferential acceptance of law graduates into the administrative elite stream, which has meant that the critical decision processes have been rule and precedent bound. However, the developmental role of the state has led to the dominance of certain elite governmental organizations, such as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Furthermore, major events and trends, such as world wars and the growth of global trade, have impacted upon organizational aspects of modern public administration. Consequently, public sectors have increased in certain periods to address major reconstruction initiatives. Cycles of nationalization of certain industries have also impacted upon organizational aspects. Political history is important, too, and organizational change at a micro level will usually occur when new governments are elected. Thus, there is a strong link between significant history and highly dynamic organizational aspects of public administration.

Thus, public administration has evolved as a distinct area of research and study in modern times. This is supported organizationally where, in concept, there is meant to be a clear separation of powers and responsibilities between political executives (governments); public administrations (civil or public services); and, the juridical arena (the law and courts). However, there are obvious accountabilities between governments and public organizations, as well, given that there is usually a correlation between the portfolio responsibilities of members of the government and the way public administrative arrangements are determined. For example, members of a government are allocated portfolio responsibilities pertinent to particular public policy fields, such as health, defense, or education. Typically, there is a defined public administration department dedicated to the implementation of government policy and/or service provision in the corresponding policy field.

Moreover, within public administrations, organization can take a number of forms. While categorization may vary from government to government, in general terms, five types of organization may be apparent. First, there are central agencies dedicated to coordinating and supporting government effort, responsible for areas such as financial and human resource management and management improvement. Second, there are departments charged with the responsibility for direct service provision to the public, across a broad range of policy fields. Third, there are government business enterprises (GBEs) which operate at a distance from government, in a more business-like way, usually providing some essential or commercial service. Fourth, there are the review and regulatory agencies, such as auditors-general, ombudsmen [sic], and anti-corruption and whistleblowing protection agencies. Fifth, there are the more peripheral boards and agencies, often semiautonomous entities that conduct other, sometimes more obscure, aspects of government business.

In general, these organizational aspects still apply, but the public administration–bureaucratic paradigm which endured for over a hundred years has to a significant extent been rejected by governments in postmodern times. By the 1960s, especially in Anglo-American polities, it was apparent that the modern paradigm of public administration, as it had evolved, was no longer serving governments, as intended. Public administrations were seen by critics and reviewers to be too big, too inefficient, and too powerful in comparison to governments. These criticisms were also linked to the perceived failure of Keynesian economic principles, which had underpinned governments’ strategic policy decisions since the 1930s.

1.2 Postmodern Public Administration, Organizational Aspects (1979–Present)

It took until the late 1970s and early 1980s for fundamental changes to be implemented in a major paradigm shift toward a market-based model of public administration. Conservative political leaders, Prime Minister Thatcher in Britain and President Reagan in the USA were the first politicians demonstrably to sustain such an approach, which led to adoption in other Anglo-Saxon polities. Similar earlier attempted changes had been evident in Latin America, where free-market concepts of the Chicago School were influential for a relatively short time. The market-based model, in varying forms, has been adopted in over 100 countries, worldwide, with some convergence of ideological thought between traditionally conflicting political parties. The market-based model supplanted communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s as a guiding ideology and has led to revolutionary change in organizational form in other largely totalitarian states.

Supranational governance structures, involving organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Group of 7–8 leading trading nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the European Union (EU) have all supported and promoted the market-based model. This may account for the active transfer and adoption processes in place from polity to polity. The EU, as the most comprehensive organizational form for supranational governance, operates with its own parliament and public administration system.

Several common themes based partly on public choice, and other less well defined neoclassical economic theories of rational choice are characteristic of the market-based model. They all have implications for public administration and organizational aspects. First, for example, there is a move away from a mixed economy to a firm belief in markets as the primary and more efficient economic mechanism. To this end, deregulation, relating to trade, finance, and monetary policies has taken place.

Second, if markets are to prevail, then the size of governments and their public sectors needs to be reduced. Included in the radical downsizing of public sectors is commercialization, and/or the privatization of GBEs where it is deemed inappropriate for governments to continue to operate in these areas. Major utilities and commercial businesses traditionally involving governments, in areas of activity such as telecommunications, power generation, distribution and transmission, water, banking, insurance, postal services, and airlines may be targeted.

Third, and most importantly, for the public sector, the strategic focus is on organizational efficiency, the creation of internal market-style competitive conditions and the more purposive application of privatesector business techniques to public management. These changes have involved a shift from a focus on processes of administration and policy, however flawed, to organizational management. A business, or corporation, metaphor may be used to define organizational form.

As a subset of public choice theory, principal–agent theory focuses on the relationships between governments and their top bureaucrats. Public bureaucrats are perceived to be budget-maximizing, self-interested agents, not trusted by governments. Therefore, governments need to develop executive structures where principal–agent theory can be applied directly so that governments can compel their administrative elite to act in the government’s interests. The establishment of formal senior executive services, with performance incentives and fixed-term contracts may result.

Organizationally, the acceptance of the market-based model by governments has seen other major changes. These include, first, substantial machinery of government changes including the separation of policy, regulatory, commercial, and operational services and programs into discrete organizations. Second, the purchaser provider split, where governments are the contract managers and service provision is contracted out. Third, more openly political appointments at the top of the public service are apparent in previously nonpartisan services. Frequently, this has involved the centralization of power away from independent personnel bodies, which have been abolished. These senior executive managers are expected to support publicly governments’ electability. In such circumstances, the possibility of ministers accepting responsibility for departmental managerial failure, within the construct of ministerial responsibility, considerably diminishes.

The rational choice logic, which underpins the market-based model, is open to question, given the presupposition of perfect markets and exchange processes. Such a conceptual framework is unrealistic for the political environment of public administration. Rewards for certain actions and behaviors of agents, required by the principals, can be achieved through both formal and informal power structures. This is an important organizational aspect of the market-based model, where parallel systems of exchange, reward, and relationships operate as a matter of course. While the formal systems may promote a constancy of action and process, the informal system can support implicitly institutionalized power relationships.

Whether the paradigm shift has resulted in better public administration and organizational aspects is still to be determined as the key economic indicators of performance, predicated within this new paradigm, suggest a mixed result. There has certainly been a shift from idiosyncratic or confined interpretations of public administration, relevant to particular nations, regions or systems, to a more universal construct. Nevertheless, there are many variations on the market-based theme depending on governments in power and individual leaderships at any given time.

From an organizational aspect, one of the weaknesses of the market-based model is that it focuses strongly on economic issues and individualism, rather than on the collective responsibility of the state to its citizens. In this sense, social and related policy fields may be diminished in their importance. Some governments are attempting to redress this imbalance with more attention to social, environmental, and other imperatives, relating to the development of human and social capital. Furthermore, the continuing growth of supranational structures in terms of greater organizational form, and advances in information technology, now provide new challenges for governments, and another likely significant paradigm shift. The organizational shape and size of public administrations into the future remains uncertain.

1.3 Virtual And Supranational Public Administration, Public Administration (Now And Into The Future)

Two developing areas of interest will undoubtedly have major organizational impacts on public administration in the future. These are, first, more virtual governments, and, second, the power of supranational organizations. With developments in information technology and the related rise of the global new economy, governments are adding more virtual organizational forms to public administrations. For example, especially with customer service initiatives, knowledge management becomes increasingly important. Free information lines, supported by computer technology, provide coordinated details of government services. Similarly, one-stop shops allow citizens to attend to a range of government requirements, such as license renewals and the payment of bills, at a single location. Comprehensive information can be obtained from government Internet websites, and civil servants can be contacted, more informally and directly, by e-mail. E-commerce, relating to procurement, contracting, and the lodging of documents may now apply. Within governments, more virtual communication also takes place involving typed, aural, and visual media. Undoubtedly, this will continue to impact upon organizational aspects of public administration in the future.

Second, the continuing development of supranational governance structures, in the context of globalization, has led to both cogent and conspiratorial debate in recent years about future organizational aspects of public administration. The Parliament of the EU as a structure challenging the sovereignty of national member governments, is an example of how future organizational aspects may evolve as other trading coalitions consolidate their form. However, responses to globalization, especially negative ones, also prompt support for localism, which emphasizes the role of individual communities.

With all these complex local and global pressures, it is likely that organizational aspects of public administration will experience quite dramatic change in the first decades of the twenty-first century. Whether the more traditional structures of agencies, departments, trading enterprises, and review bodies, with the complex relationships between key actors, will remain as the primary organizational aspects is difficult to predict. Even if they do remain, the more virtual aspects of public administration are expected to endure and grow, to the point where there will be far more virtual public administration than there is at the time of writing.


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