Home Introduction to public Administration ISSUES IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION/BASIC CONCEPTS


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Like other disciplines in social sciences, public administration has some peculiar concepts which are often employed for analytical purposes. Some of the concepts that will be discussed in this unit are bureaucracy, organization, chief executive and the environment of public administration


By the end of this unit you are expected to:

  1. Define bureaucracy and list its features 
  2.  Discuss the concept of organization 
  3. Explain the responsibilities of chief executive 
  4. Describe the environment of public administration 


3.1 Bureaucracy

The term bureaucracy is often heard and used in connection with the conduct of public affairs and the activities of public officials in particular. What exactly is the meaning of the term? No clear definition has been given of bureaucracy than that of the eminent German sociologist, Max Weber, according to him: The fully developed bureaucratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machines with the non – mechanical modes of production. Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs – these are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic administration … Its specific nature develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is dehumanized the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business, love, hatred, and all purely personal irrational and emotional elements which escape calculation (Weber, 1947).

In order to qualify as a bureaucratic organization, Max Weber specifies the following eight requirements which an organization must meet:

  1. The regular activities required for the purpose of the bureaucratically governed structure are distributed in a fixed way as official duties. 
  2.  A specified sphere of competence has been marked off as part of a systematic division of labor. 
  3.  The official is subject to strict and systematic discipline and control in the conduct of his office. 
  4. All operations are governed by a consistent system of abstract rules … and consist in the application of these rules to particular cases. 
  5. The organization of offices follows the principles of hierarchy; that is, each lower office is under the control and supervision of a higher one.
  6. Officials are subject to authority only with respect to their impersonal official obligations. 
  7.  Candidates are selected on the basis of technical qualifications. In the most rational case, this is tested by examinations or guaranteed by diplomas certifying technical training or both. They are appointed, not selected. 
  8. Being a bureaucratic official constitute a career. There is a system of promotions according to seniority or to achievement or both (Weber, 1947). 

In conclusion, it is important to note that while bureaucracy has inherent elements that make its processes often cumbersome and distasteful to its public clients, yet it is indispensable and indeed an
instrument for the achievement of efficiency in all large organizations. It is concerned with the most efficient means of planning and control, and the fact that these processes are often misused and abused by inefficient, corrupt, and stubborn officials is not a case for the total condemnation of bureaucracy (Adebayo, 2004)

Self Assessment Exercise 3.5

Define bureaucracy and list characteristics of a bureaucratic organization

3.2 Organization

Organization is defined in many ways and each definition tries to reflect a particular perspective which scholars adopt about organizations. One of such definitions views organization as a highly rationalized and impersonal integration of a large number of specialists cooperating to achieve some announce specific objectives. Another definition sees organization as a system of consciously coordinated personal activities or forces of two or more persons. The various definitions help to identify some common characteristics of organizations.

  1. Organizations are purposeful, complex human collectives 
  2. They are characterized by secondary (or impersonal) relationship; 
  3. They have specialized limited goals 
  4. They are characterized by sustained cooperative activity; 
  5. They are integrated within a larger social system; 
  6. They provide services and products to their environment; 
  7. They are dependent on exchanges with their environment; 
  8. In relation to public organizations, they draw their resources 

(taxes and legitimacy) from the polity and are meditated by the institutions of the state
If we carefully examine these characteristics, they jointly reproduce what may be referred to as working universal principles of organizations. They are three in number:

  1. There must be division of labor 
  2. There must be identification of the services of the authority 
  3.  There must be establishment of relationships. 

3.3 Chief Executive

In developing his fourteen principles of management, Henri Fayol identified Unity of Command as one of his principles. To him, that principle simply means one man one superior, Fayol explained in

another principle, the principle of Authority that one man will have the right to give orders. He further warned that authority should not be considered without reference to responsibility. He noted again under his Unity of Direction the one man as superior head will have one plan for a group of activities with the same objectives. The principles have been widely applied to administration at various forms of modern organization. In modern organizations, the one man with authority and responsibilities of all the activities in an organization is referred to as the chief executive. Explaining more about the chief executive, Corson and Harris noted that the chief executive should be responsible for decision – making, planning of work to be done, formulating objectives and goals establishing and reviewing organization’s policies and programs, directing and supervising employees, exercising control on other important activities of an organization.

The functions of chief executives vary from organization and from time to time; but essentially the same list of managerial duties is performed by executives at all levels of administrative responsibility. Every administrator or chief executive spends considerable portion of his time in conversations, correspondence, conferences and interviews. The task of a chief executive have been viewed by many as sets of functions only performed in a rare field atmosphere and on a grandiose scale, as mainly complex and most intricate activities requiring great intellectual capacity. It can however be denied that the task of administration requires only qualities and attributes of the highest order, it is therefore important to recognize the fact that administration does not comprise solely

actions of great magnitude. It is the simple as well as difficult, every day decision and acts which in the aggregate become administration. The efficient executives are those who realize that they must relieve themselves of the less important work and devote more time to such administrative functions as planning and coordination which they cannot afford to delegate. As has been popularly known, constructive thinking is most likely to occur when the executive has mastered the art of unhurried management (Adebayo, 2004)

3.4 The Environment of Public Administration

Public administration exists in a particular socio – economic and political environment that affects its behavior and performance.

  1. It operates in an intense and pervasive political atmosphere. This is natural since public administration is part and parcel of the political process.Although politicians in government tend to absorb much of the political pressures on government, enough still filters through to the public administration to significantly affect its work. For example, public administrators cannot take account of only the technical and professional factors in their work. They must integrate them with political considerations that are often unpredictable on a day – to – day basis. Political considerations may cause an industrial project to be embarked upon against all technical and professional wisdom. Yet, at the same time the government expects the administrator to use resources judiciously and to apply professional expertise in the solution of national problems. 
  2. There is a widespread expectation of benefits from public administration at little or no cost to the citizen. This is particularly the case in the ex – colonial countries of Africa and Asia where there is a strong heritage of government involvement in many welfare functions. A consequence of this great expectation is that the populace is not eager to calculate or make allowances for the cost of providing these amenities. Thus, public administrators must walk the tight rope of satisfying these popular demands with little or no resources at their disposal. 
  3.  The resources needed by public administration are so diffuse and dispersed that there is a serious problem of coordination. The spatial division of labour in the system is designed to help out but it creates its own problems of coordination 
  4. Associated with this diffuseness of resources is the diffuseness of roles necessary for public administration. Unlike a private economic enterprise where there is a single minded focus on one project, the objectives of even the ministries cannot be precisely defined and, therefore, neither can the roles necessary to accomplish them be precisely defined.
  5. All of these problems of the diffuseness of resources and roles are the consequence of the very wide attention span which public administration must maintain. It is involved in so many areas of the life of a society and in so many activities that an overlap of several areas of these activities is inevitable. But such an overlap leads to a blurring of roles with negative consequences for efficiency, for example, through the wastage of resources due to duplication. 
  6. Public administration takes place in the full glare of the public eye. It is in a sense everyone’s business, and what is more, some people outside the civil service take this business seriously. They are ever ready to proffer suggestions on how to perform better, to call for more action, to criticize and identify weaknesses and failures, and to make political capital out of such failures. Thus public administrators are under constant public pressure; their attention is divided; and they are distracted. Under such conditions efficiency suffers. But this is a necessary sacrifice for the values of freedom and democracy. It is unthinkable that public administration should be a secret affair of the civil servants. 
  7. Public administration, however, takes place under conditions of job security for the civil servants. In the light of their constant exposure to contact with the public and the consequent public criticism, this job security has some positive effect on the continuity of policy. It prevents precipitous actions from being taken against civil servants on the basis of public complaints some of which may be politically motivated and many of which may be the result of a lack of understanding of the various government regulations. On the other hand job security may enable incompetent civil servants to continue in office to the detriment of the effectiveness of public administration. 
  8. Finally, public administration may easily be compared out of context with private administration. For example, very often the various private administrations of banks, commercial houses, industrial and other enterprises compete for personnel with public administration. They are usually in a position to pay much higher wages and salaries and to offer more attractive fringe benefits. They are thus able to attract good personnel away from public administration. This is not all. Workers in the civil service often compare their standard of living very unfavorably with that of their counterparts in private administration. The net consequence of this comparison is low worker morale in the public sector. Truancy prevails; sometimes the civil servant feels that he/she must engage in some private business of his own at the same time as he maintains his civil service job. Worse still he/she may feel the need to augment his/her income by indulging in corrupt practices such as the inflation of contract sums in order to increase his/her commission from the award of such contract to those he/she sponsors. Such practices not only breed waste and inefficiency in the management of scare public resources, they damage the moral fabric of the nation and, therefore, the long – term survival of the government and the ruling class. These practices cause more havoc in African and other poor countries of the world where the wages are generally quite low and where wastage of public resources is most intolerable than they do in other countries of the world (Nnoli, 2004) 

Self – Assessment Exercise 3.4

Describe the environment of public administration


Every discipline has its own terminologies. These concepts are the defining features of a discipline. In this unit, attention has been focused at understanding the basic concepts in public administration.
While such concepts are numerous, we were interested in looking at bureaucracy, organization, Chie Executive and the environment of public administration.


We have treated the basic concepts in public administration in this unit by explaining Bureaucracy, Organization, Chief Executive and the Environment of Public Administration


  1.  Define Bureaucracy and mention its basic features 
  2. State and Explain the responsibilities of the chief executive 
  3.  Discuss the environment of public administration 


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