Generally thought of as the area where Political Science meets Administrative Law, Public Administration is both an academic field of study and an occupation. From an academic point of view, Public Administration is defined as “a program that prepares individuals to serve as managers in the executive arm of local, state, and federal government and that focuses on the systematic study of executive organization and management.”
Public Administration is primarily concerned with how government programs and policies are organized, maintained, and executed. Another item of importance is the conduct of administrative officials and other public servants, and how their performance is evaluated. From an occupational perspective, the Public Administration profession is comprised of establishments and institutions that perform governmental duties such as national defense, taxation, international aide, legislative activities, foreign policy, and the administration of government programs.
Public Administration is by its nature, multidisciplinary, and is often divided into six different components:
- Human Resources: The individuals that comprise the workforce of a given business, institution or economy; sometimes referred to as “Human Capital.”
- Organizational Theory: The study of organizations with the intention of identifying themes or patterns in an attempt to solve problems, maximize productivity and efficiency, and meeting the demands of stakeholders.
- Policy Analysis & Statistics: The process of determining which policy out of numerous options is best suited to achieve a set of given goals in light of the relations between the policies and the goals. Policy Analysis contains both analytical and descriptive aspects. Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data.
- Budgeting: The financial planning and listing of all planned revenues and expenses.
- Ethics: The systematizing, defending, and recommending of concepts dealing with right and wrong conduct.
The necessity of Public Administration has existed practically as long as governments and rulers have. As far back as the age of Antiquity, kings, emperors, pharaohs, and other rulers had enlisted teams of tax collectors, scribes, and pages to facilitate the business of running a functional government. Early public servants were considered to be the eyes and ears of the general population, and were charged with keeping their superiors informed of situations that developed beyond palace walls. American Public Administration as it exists today has its roots in the writings of Woodrow Wilson, who in an 1887 essay on the topic, advocated for a separation of politics and administration, comparative analysis of political and private institutions, implementing more business-like practices in administrative activities, and improving the quality of public service through management, specialized training, and merit-based assessments.
Given the sheer magnitude of functions and tasks that government agencies are charged with, a solid foundation in Public Administration is essential to understanding how policies and programs are carried out, why they’re in effect, who’s running them, how effective they are, what potential problems may arise, and what’s the best way to deal with them. In recent years, government agencies have come under fire for conducting themselves too much like corporations and treating the recipients of services less like citizens and more like customers. This is one issue that’s expected to become more salient in the coming years, and an awareness of Public Administration is vital to grasping the implications of such a trend, and knowing what can be done to potentially change the current situation
Students interested in pursuing a career in Public Administration will certainly have no shortage of course options to choose from. In addition to the six components mentioned earlier, topics in this field include:
- Public Sector Labor Relations
- Non-Profit Management
- Public Sector Planning
- Administrative Law & Government
- Information Management
- Labor Law
- Intergovernmental Management
- Accounting in the Public Sector
- Democracy and Public Administration
- Politics of Managing Urban Areas
- Comparative Public Policy
- Planning & Implementing Electronic Government
- Citizen Participation & Community Involvement
- Applied Economics for Public Managers
Career opportunities are plentiful in Public Administration. Positions that are common in this field include federal, state, county, city, and local agency officials, municipal budget directors, city managers, cabinet secretaries, state mental health directors, human resources administrators, and public administrators working in departments and agencies at all levels of government.
Opportunities for internships can be found for nearly all of those positions (which are very likely to be offered by the same government departments and agencies). Students seeking a degree in this area can obtain a Master’s in Public Administration (considered to be a public sector equivalent to a Master’s of Business Administration) and two different doctoral degrees; the Doctor of Public Administration and the Ph.D. in Public Administration.