Politics of Administrative Process Summary

Thought Paper – Unit 2

For each unit, students must submit a paper that summarizes and analyses the assigned readings. An exemplary paper will prove to the professor that the student has read all materials in their entirety and spent time comparing, contrasting, and thinking about these materials. These papers will be submitted on Moodle, in the assignment submission link within each unit. Format: 1.5 spacing, no space between paragraphs, page numbers, 11-point Calibri font, proper citations, no page minimums.

6 page summary analysis on the following readings from the following text :

Kettl, Chapters 4 & 6

From Shafritz & Hyde: Goodnow, Taylor, Gulick, Barnard, Weber, Simon, Waldo, Merton, McGregor, Katz & Kahn, Downs, Kaufman, Bennis, Ott

Case Study HBS 304090 (Columbia’s Final Mission)

Kettl, Chapters 1-3

From Shafritz & Hyde: Wilson, White, Appleby

Text used:

Kettl, D. F. (2017). The politics of the administrative process, Washington, DC: CQ Press. 7th Edition ISBN: 9781506357096 (previous editions will suffice; rental or online versions will save you substantial money)

Shafritz, J.M, & Hyde, A.C. (2017). Classics of public administration. Cengage. 8th Edition. ISBN-10: 1305639030, ISBN-13: 9781305639034 (previous editions will suffice; rental or online versions will save you substantial money)

Case being explored:

You may find these two reading helpful while writing your answers:

McCurdy, H. E. (1992). NASA’s organizational culture. Public Administration Review, 52(2), 189- 192.

Donahue, A. K., & O’Leary, R. (2012). Do shocks change organizations? The case of NASA. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 22(3), 395-425.

I have attached a sample that was provided by professor below :

An Example of an Exemplary Thought Paper

<Name Omitted>

POLS 5001

August 30, 2015

Thought Paper Number One

This week’s readings were largely built on the basis of the different types of accountability found in the public sector. Kettl’s (2012) focus was, naturally, more broad. In chapter one, he speaks at length about the foundations of accountability in government through events such as the handling of Hurricane Katrina by the Bush administration, the handling of the BP oil spill by government as well as BP itself, and the New Deal Era reforms government expansion. In chapter two, he defines public administration and the modern “administrative state” and also gives the reader examples of how and why government has grown as much as it has since World War II. In chapter three, he explains what government does and the mechanisms it uses to carry out these missions. Romzek and Dubnick (1987) go in depth on the different kinds of accountability and their appropriateness using the Challenger tragedy as an example. Finer (1941) rebuts a colleague on the nature of administrative responsibility and explains his views on the topic. Rosenbloom (1983) discusses different approaches to public administration as well as its organizational structure and view of the individual. These ideas will be discussed at length in this essay.

Kettl’s book, The Politics of the Administrative Process, seeks to give the reader a fundamental view and understanding of public administration. In chapter one, the reader sees the vital importance of accountability and the abject consequences that can take place when administrators are not held accountable. The reader is brought into a scene of absolute disaster in the wake of the BP oil spill in April of 2010 and the technological and procedural failures that led to it. As a result, 4 million barrels of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and eleven people lost their lives (2 Kettl 2012). Kettl takes the reader through the attempts to stop the spilling of oil by BP, its subcontractors, and the government alike; he ultimately concludes that “[t]he story of the BP spill is the essence of public administration…we, as a people, identify the problems that we expect government will solve…” (4 Kettl 2012). This statement is true, but as Kettl elaborates there is more to the public’s expectation. They also expect the public administration to be, “…effective…efficient…and accountable…” (4 Kettl 2012). The quest for government with these qualities leads us to the concept of bureaucratic responsibility which, according to Kettl is made up of two parts: accountability, defined as “…obedience to the law…officials’ directions…efficiency and economy,” and ethical behavior, defined as “…adherence to moral standards…” (7 Kettl 2012). For a proper understanding of these concepts, a greater examination of accountability is necessary. Particularly, different approaches are needed due to the wide-range of tasks undertaken by different agencies through different times in a rapidly changing culture. Those approaches are: legal boundaries, political challenges, and evolving policy problems. Issues of legal boundary arise when governmental power and the rights of the individual; particularly, in America, it is a fine-line between granting the government enough power to do its job, but not so much that it could trample over the individual which led to the creation of the politics-administration dichotomy in the Progressive Era (11-12 Kettl 2012). Political challenges was the natural follow-up to legal boundaries because, unlike the wishes of the Progressives and the aforementioned politics-administration dichotomy, public administration is inherently political. This led to problems during the Great Depression and New Deal eras; with expanding government it became harder to tie intent of a law into its execution which led to an acceptance professional norms would guide administrators (13-14 Kettl 2012). Alas, even this would become even more complex with evolving policy problems. Federal, state, and local policy became more complex as it spread to partner among different branches and with the private sector. As more agencies were created and intertwined with one another this led inevitably to more questions about who is ultimately accountable (14-16 Kettl 2012). Kettl admits that there is no “…magic solution,” to these problems, but the most accountable government hinges on the concepts of “…balance between external and internal controls,” and ultimately “ethical behavior by administrators,” (17-18 Kettl 2012).

In chapter two, Kettl switches gears and explains to the reader exactly what public administration is. Kettl gives the reader a plethora of examples including law enforcement, subways, and transit authorities (29-30 Kettl 2012). Essentially, it is anything that the public as a whole has decided is so important that we should be doing it collectively, as a whole through government. Kettl continues by the government’s growing size since World War II into an “administrative state” ideally a “…bigger bureaucracy for a strong, vibrant democracy,” (31 Kettl 2012). The downside to such growth, red tape. Kettl defines the term to mean, “…slicing through the paperwork to solve the real problems,” (33 Kettl 2012). This term is often used by bureaucrat bashers to call for the shrinkage of government and elimination and sizing down of government, but as Kettl points out the public continues to count on that bureaucracy for services it needs and wants and often complains about what government does not do (33 Kettl 2012). Consistent with the public’s often contradictory view of bureaucracy, they view it in contradictory ways as well. On one hand it is “…red tape bound civil servants…” who are “inefficient, unresponsive, negative, bored, impolite, and unhelpful…” while on the other they are viewed as “…all too-efficient officials who have amassed tremendous power and who arbitrarily decide matters without due process,” (34 Kettl 2012). Obviously, neither of these views are the truth and, furthermore, they aren’t consistent with one another, but, regardless, these views within the public persist. Next, Kettl tries to better define what public administration is. Since this is such an inexact science, this is not easy and has never been defined particularly well by any of the great thinkers who have spoken about. Rather than take the question head on, Kettl decides the best way to define public administration is to separate it from private administration. (37 Kettl 2012). He starts by invalidating the argument that administration is administration no matter its setting by citing the experiences of those who have moved from positions of upper management in the private sector into the public and follows that up by saying that one, “…most crucially, public organizations do the public’s business-they administer law,” and two there are, “…important differences in character…fundamentally different processes…and work in a different environment,” (39 Kettl 2012). There also exists the key distinction that public administration is working on a legal framework and as such has characteristics such as “…career service…measures of performance…competing standards…public scrutiny…persuasion…[and] oversight,” (40-41 Kettl 2012). Although these concepts may exist within private organizations, they are fundamentally different in terms in public administration. The two also differ greatly on the topics of policy execution and policy formation. Though both types of organizations execute policy, the scope of that policy and the consequences for failure couldn’t be more different. If the board of a company decides to take a course of action policy has been formed. It will implement the policy through its own hierarchal bureaucracy. If the policy fails, the company may lose money; at worst, the company may go out of business In contrast, public policy is created by “elected policymakers” who are held accountable to the people, meaning that much of the public has to agree which is an incredibly difficult thing to do in its own right (42 Kettl 2012). On the execution side, public administrators from all levels and agencies must coordinate as appropriate, and the consequences for failure are immense. In the cases of the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina, people die. As Kettl states, “[p]ublic policies, no matter how bold or innovative, are worthless if government cannot carry them out,” (43 Kettl 2012). In closing, Kettl offers three concepts to frame the reader’s thinking of public administration:

  1. Public administration is timeless but is time bound
  2. Public administration is universal but is also culture bound and varies with situations
  3. Public administration is complex but is intelligible only by a simplified model or a step-by-step combination of such models”

In chapter three, after getting the best definition possible of public administration in the second chapter, Kettl moves forward to discuss what that administration does and the means by which is does it. Kettl first discusses Americans “ambivalent” and revolutionary attitude toward government and, in recent decades, flat-out mistrust (59 Kettl 2012). In fact, trust in government began to decline sharply during the Vietnam and Watergate eras. It muddled along at about average until a spike right 9/11 to sharply decline again through the Bush and Obama years (60 Kettl 2012). Not only do Americans not trust their government to do the right thing, they also do not trust the government to spend money economically. In fact, “[a] Gallup survey in 2009 found that Americans believed that half of all federal spending was wasted, up from forty percent in 1979…” (61 Kettl 2012). Clearly Americans distrust their government, but what is to be done about that? Kettl notes on page sixty-two, that running against big government has become a campaign strategy, but when those same individuals are elected they find themselves unable to “cut” government like that had imagined in their campaign slogans. In order to give the reader the proper context to understand the growth of government in recent decades, Kettl offers up the following numbers for combined spending of federal, state, and local governments, “…spent $1.6 billion in 1902, saw that amount rise to $70.3 billion in 1950, and to $5 trillion in 2008,” (64 Kettl 2012). To understand these numbers fully one must consider the expansion in services that government offers and how it relates to federalism and the classic cake analogy. Kettl also gives the reader a summary of what each level of government in the proverbial cake spends money on. Sixty-five percent of the federal government’s budget is spent on entitlements; twenty-eight percent and twenty percent of state budgets are spent on aid to local governments and public welfare, respectively; thirty-five percent of local government budgets are spent on elementary and secondary education (65-69 Kettl 2012). While observing the budgetary data it is clear that government has gotten bigger, but, according to Kettl, what most Americans don’t realize is that, “…government has grown fastest at the state and local levels,” (70 Kettl 2012). Left out of this discussion so far are the mechanisms governments use. These accomplished using direct and indirect tools. Direct administration is easily recognizable, it includes what we see every day, such as, “…police and fire protection to air traffic control and inspection of food safety…” (73 Kettl 2012). The indirect tools, which comprise a majority of the government’s budget, are much more complex and include tools like “grants…contracts…regulations…tax expenditures…[and] loan programs,” (73-76 Kettl 2012).

Herman Finer’s 1941 essay, Administrative Responsibility in Democratic Government, outlines his view on the nature of responsibility and accountability in government and is largely a rebuke of his colleague (and possible adversary?) Professor Carl J. Friedrich’s views on the subject. Finer argues that administrative responsibility is not only as important as efficiency in a democracy, but that it also “…a contributor to efficiency in the long run,” (335 Finer 1941). Professor Friedrich believes that in the face of structures that ensure accountability and responsibility of public administrators would negatively impact efficiency and that the best way to ensure accountability and responsibility is through “…deference or loyalty to professional standards,” (335 Finer 1941). Finer holds the contrary view of “…distinguishing responsibility as an arrangement of correction and punishment even up to dismissal of politicians and officials,” (335 Finer 1941) It is already clear in the larger scope of these readings, that Finer is in favor of the formal, external accountability systems of political and professional origin; while Friedrich is in favor of an internal form of accountability stemming from bureaucratic and professional origin. Finer goes on to explain his view in more detail before critiquing Friedrich’s. He describes the state of the modern government (circa 1941) and its “…repressive, controlling, remedial…” entangling and overlapping duties in all sectors of society (335 Finer 1941). This great scope of government has led him to believe that public administrators must not be allowed to “…decide their own course…” and that they must be “… responsible to the elected officials of the public…” because of this great power that they wield (336 Finer 1941). He defines responsibility in two ways: one it “…may mean that that X is accountable for Y to Z,” or it “…may mean an inward personal sense of moral obligation,” (336 Finer 1941). By his previous statements, the reader can clearly discern that he is of the first school of thought while Friedrich is of the second. Finer goes on to state three doctrines that democratic governments are built on to ensure responsibility of those in government. These are: one, “…the mastership of the public,” two, “…recognition that this mastership needs institutions…for its expression,” and three, “…the authority and power to exercise an effect…” (337 Finer 1941). Finer moves forward to channel Montesquieu and demonize “public-spirited zeal” and recognize the fact that “virtue itself hath need limits,” (338 Finer 1941). He expunges on this topic further by talking about the fear of public monopolies and potential grievous acts that they can commit. He summarizes them in two ways, one, these government monopolies take away the ability of the consumer to “…cast a more than daily vote most effectively for the producer he prefers,” and two, “…making concessions ex gratia to “subjects,” (338 Finer 1941). All of these arguments about the potential evils committed by unaccountable government, justify his belief in a strong organizational accountability and further lead him to doubt the opinion of Friedrich. He goes forward to criticize Friedrich’s article by summarizing it belittling to the people and putting administration outside of their control. He goes on to say that though administrators may do what “looks like legislation” by interpreting law, but that is essential that we keep them out of these grounds as they are not elected to represent the public (343 Finer 1941).

In David Rosenbloom’s 1983 article, Public Administration Theory and the Separation of Powers, he synthesizes the different approaches to public administration and relates how they all represent the concept of the separation of powers. The Managerial Approach to public administration “grew largely out of the civil service reform movements of the late 19th century,” and sought to make public administration more “businesslike” as discussed at length by Woodrow Wilson during his time as a scholar (219 Rosenbloom 1983). Wilson set forth three core values for this approach: one, “what government can properly and successfully do,” two, “how it can do these proper things” with efficiency, and three, “at the least possible cost either of money or of energy,” (220 Rosenbloom 1983). The managerial approach viewed Max Weber’s idealized bureaucracy focused on “functional specialization,” hierarchy, and remaining politically neutral as the ideal organizational structure (220 Rosenbloom 1983). This approach, fittingly with its bureaucratic view, views individuals as “impersonal” regardless of how or why the individual is interacting with the administration (220 Rosenbloom 1983). The political approach to public administration, is “ultimately a problem in political theory” according to Wallace Sayre (221 Rosenbloom 1983). This approach grew out of the New Deal and World War II eras because of raid government expansion. It “stresses the values of representativeness, political responsiveness, and accountability,” (221 Rosenbloom 1983). This is largely explained by the era in which it grew. An era of ever expanding government made people fearful of what would happen if that government were to be unchecked and not ultimately accountable to the people; thus, it is largely put in a contrasting manner with the managerial approach. The ideal organizational structure of the political approach is the antithesis of Weber’s idea of the perfect bureaucracy. In this view, “public administration [should be] organized around values of representativeness, responsiveness, and accountability,” as well as the “advantages of political pluralism,” (221 Rosenbloom 2015). In its view of individuals, the political approach largely sees them as a politician does, generalized into groups. It “identifies the individual’s interests as being similar or identical to those of other considered to be within the same group…” (222 Rosenbloom 2015). The legal approach to public administration is built on three concepts: administrative law, judicialization, and constitutional law. Administrative law is defined as “…that part of the law which fixes the organization…determines competence of the authorities…and indicates to the individual remedies for the violation of his rights,” (222 Rosenbloom 1983). Judicialization can be seen in the adding or “hearing examiners” and the like which oversee and can overturn the decisions of the agency (222 Rosenbloom 1983). Constitutional law is obvious, but particularly its effect here can be narrowed down to “[s]ince the 1950s, the federal judiciary has virtually reestablished…” civil liberties as it pertains to administrative interaction with citizens (223 Rosenbloom 1983). The preferred organizational structure of the legal approach is, obviously, a structure that more closely resembles the structure of the judiciary; moreover, “…the full-fledged judicial trial is the archetypical model,” (223 Rosenbloom 1983). As far as organizational structure is concerned, this model goes against both of the aforementioned ones. The Legal Approach is also differing in its view of the individual. Its judicial views lead it to see “the individual as a unique person in a unique set of circumstances,” (224 Rosenbloom 1983). All of the discussion to this point has led to Rosenbloom’s overall point about the separation of powers. Each of these approaches to public administration are geared toward a particular branch of government. Managerial toward the executive branch, political toward the legislative branch, and legal toward the legislative branch. Due to the fear of a completely inactive government in a world where such gridlock was no longer an option, “…all three governmental functions have been collapsed into administrative branch,” (225 Rosenbloom 1983). Rosenbloom’s ultimate conclusion is that one, each approach has validity, each approach is more appropriate in different settings, and three, that public administrative theory should expand into political theory for greater precision on these matters.

Romzek’s and Dubnick’s 1987 article, Accountability in the Public Sector: Lessons from the Challenger Tragedy, was saved for last in this essay intentionally. It serves as the logical end point in this chain of thought. Where approaches to public administration are misapplied and the ultimate tragedy takes place because of it which brings the consequences of bad public management to the ultimate mistake. They quote the Rogers Commission managerial decisions as well as technical issues were responsible for the Challenger’s explosion. In an effort to root out the cause of the poor management, they examine the four different types of accountability: “legal, political, bureaucratic and professional,” (227 R&D 1987). Before that can be done, they look at NASA from an institutional perspective. Breaking the organizational responsibility into a technical level which is the “effective performance of…functions,” a managerial level which “provides for mediation among its technical components…and ‘customers’ and ‘suppliers,’” and the institutional level where the organizations “meaning” in the context of society is defined (228 R&D 1987). The writers argue that NASA which was originally built largely on the technical level had to shift its priorities to the managerial level because of outside political and budgetary pressures which, at least in part, led to the Challenger disaster. Now on to the accountability perspective which will give the reader a better understanding of how this took place. The accountability system is divided into four types: bureaucratic, legal, professional, and political. The bureaucratic type is defined by hierarchy and “supervisory control” where a subordinate answers to a supervisor (228 R&D 1987). The legal type is defined by “relationships between a controlling part outside of the agency,” or, more simply, answering to a committee or court. The professional type is defined by reliance on “skilled and expert employees to provide appropriate solutions,” (228 R&D 1987). The political type is defined by “representativeness” to politicians outside of the agency (228 R&D 1987). Obviously, given the culture and function of the agency, the type of accountability that is most appropriate will change. The writers in this case argue that in the beginning NASA was focused on the professional type of accountability which is fitting due to the type of highly technical work that they do. It is inappropriate to have a politician or someone from a strictly managerial position making those types of decisions. According to the writers, this is exactly what happened due to a “leveling off of both its political and financial support” after the moon landing in the late sixties and seventies (231 R&D 1987). Thus, NASA had to become more managerially controlling and less reliant on the professional model of accountability which directly led to the Challenger tragedy. Ironically, as the writers point out, the prescription that was handed down to hinder future events like the one in question will probably make them more likely to occur again. (R&D 1987).

These writings all concern themselves with the proper role of accountability and management in public administration and it is clear why they have been chosen to be read together. From, Finer’s calls for a government that is MORE responsive directly to the people. To Rosenbloom’s ideas about the three approaches to public administration, and finally to the arguments set forth by Romzek and Dubnick on ensuring that the way that the administration ensures accountability is the correct one for it. For instance, it would seem that Finer and R&D are at odds with one another. Finer seems to believe that in all aspects “professional” accountability is a bad idea; however, it is clear from the argument that R&D made that professional accountability is sometimes that only appropriate way to manage an agency that is as a highly technical as NASA. The greatest lesson one can take away from these readings is that each type managerial approach has use as Rosenbloom argues; it just must be done in the right way in the context of the administration’s culture and mission.


Finer, H. (1941). Administrative responsibility in democratic government, Public Administrative Review, 1(4), Wiley. https://www.jstor.org/stable/972907

Kettl, D. (2012). The politics of the administrative process fifth edition. Washington DC: CQ Press. Print.

Romzek, B. & Dubnick, M. (1987). Accountability in the public sector: lessons from the challenger tragedy, Public Administration Review, 47(3), Wiley. https://www.jstor.org/stable/975901

Rosenbloom, D. (1983). Public administrative theory and the separation of powers, Public Administrative Review, 43(3), Wiley. https://jstor.org/stable/976330

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