This essay argues that the Progressive Era is not the foundation of
American Public Administration. Granting the significance of that era in
framing a self-conscious, professional public administration in the
United States, it argues that the importance of the Progressive Era has
been overstated. The author prefers to depict that eras contributions as
part of a series of framings and reframings of American public
administration. The essay does that by: 1) recognizing some of the key
themes of the Progressive Era; 2) identifying some of the key themes of
eras before and after the Progressive Era; and 3) suggesting how all of
the contributions of the various eras ought to be recognized in order to
properly understand how 21st century American public administration
came to be what it isand how it might yet evolve.
THE TALE: AMERICAN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION BEGAN
WITH THE PROGRESSIVE ERA
It will likely come as a surprise to no one that my answer to the question
poised in the title is: No the Progressive Era is not the foundation of American
Public Administration. Still, it must be admitted that the Progressive Era was
part of the period of time that was quite significant in framing a self-conscious,
professional public administration in the United States.
I have previously contended that we should show more interest in the
practice of public administration in the United States before it became a selfconscious practiceprior to the management movement of the late 19th
century and the Progressive Era of the early 20th (Luton, 1999b, pp. 210-211).
Scholars have addressed the Constitutional parameters and themes (e.g.,
Caldwell, 1944; Rohr, 1986; Spicer, 1995), but too little attention has been
given to other formative periods for American public administration. This has
resulted in giving too much credit to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
2002, Public Administration Theory Network
Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3, 2002: 439456
At its worst, the elevation of the management movements and Progressive
Eras significance for American public administration appears to claim that
there was no public administration prior to the 1880s (e.g., Schuman & Olufs,
1993, p. 244). More commonly, public administration scholars suggest that
there was little or no conscientious thought about public administration prior
to the management movement (Fesler & Kettl, 1996, p. 18; White, 1948,
p. viii; White, 1951, p. 556; White, 1954, p. 566; White, 1958, p. 19). It is
almost as if they believe that public administration can be done without
thinking, as if they do not realize that the routine work of government is
primarily a mental rather than a manual labor (Skowronek, 1982, p. 31).
Similarly, collections of documents that are deemed to be significant to
American public administration often either skip from the late 1700s to the
late 1800swith hardly an apology to the intervening centuryor simply
begin with a late 1800s document (Mosher, 1976; Shafritz & Hyde, 1992).
At its best, our treatment of the management movement and the
Progressive Era as together representing the time period when professional
public administration began to take shape includes an admission that the
century between the constitutional founding and the civil service reform
movement provided the soil in which the seed of professional public
administration was able to take root (e.g., Skowronek, 1982, p. 9). Even then,
the dirtiness of the soil is likely to be emphasized and its value denigrated.
Patronage is described as the demon from which the merit system protected us
(Fish, 1905; Stewart 1929; White 1958, p.18). Local control is described as the
chaos that a more centralized bureaucracy would hold at bay (Wiebe, 1967).
The point of this essay is not to denigrate the contributions of the
Progressive Era, but to depict them as part of a series of framings and
reframings of American public administration, not its foundation.1 The essay
will do that by 1) recognizing some of the key themes of the Progressive Era,
2) identifying some of the key themes of eras before and after the Progressive
Era, and 3) suggesting how all of the contributions of the various eras ought to
be recognized in order to properly understand how 21st century American
public administration came to be what it isand how it might yet evolve.
KEY THEMES OF THE PROGRESSIVE ORTHODOXY
Although there may be some question whether there has ever been an
American public administration orthodoxy (Luton, in press), there are
identifiable key themes of Progressive American public administration.
Stillman (1999, pp. 111-117) has described them as: 1) separation of politics
from administration; 2) confidence in scientific processes; 3) primacy of the
values of economy and efficiency; 4) dependence upon top-down hierarchy;
and 5) reliance upon generalist public administrators.
440 Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3
Separation of administration from politics was an ideal at the heart of
Progressive Era American public administration. Support for this ideal
derived largely from the abuses and corruption associated with the political
dynamics manifested in early 19th century rotation and patronage. But even
those who are credited with being advocates of the dichotomy saw the
inevitability of connections between the two. For example, Wilson recognized
the relationship between public opinion and the conduct of administration as
the fundamental problem for public administration (Wilson, 1992, p. 13).
Similarly, Goodnow saw the need to achieve harmony between politics
(expression of the states will) and administration (execution of the states
will) (Stillman, 1999, pp. 111-112). But their separation provided a frame
that facilitated an enhanced focus on some new guiding values for
professional public administrationexpertise, efficiency, and bureaucratic
hierarchyvalues that seemed to position the study of public administration
closer to business administration than to political science.
The rising importance of science in government began in the late 1800s,
aided by the efforts of men like (first director of the
Bureau of Ethnology and second director of the U.S. Geological Survey) who
believed that government should undertake research for human good and
worked to organize and institutionalize science in government (Luton 1999a,
p. 43; Stegner, 1954, p. 70). As society became more technological, the ideas
and methods of science were incorporated into our thinking about public
administration. Some even dreamed of developing a science of administration,
with principles and laws every bit as dependable as those of physics (e.g,
Fayol, 1937). The dream never was actualized but confidence in detached
scientific methods of observation supported public administrations claims
of expertise and an ability to make decisions based on evidence rather than
personal, social, or political connections (Wiebe, 1967, p. 147).
Economy and efficiency were promoted by a related development, the
scientific management movement, which had confidence in scientific methods
and put them to use in promoting economy and efficiency. Frederick Taylor
used empirical experimentation to discover the one best way to perform
specific tasks efficiently in the pursuit of prosperity. Such Progressive Era
leaders as the New York Bureau of Municipal Research and the Taft
Commission on Economy and Efficiency incorporated Taylors views into
American public administration. Improving public administration, they
believed, would depend on more than removing politics from personnel and
other key administrative decisions; it would depend also on creating an
institutionalized, scientific pursuit of economy and efficiency.
The Progressive Era model also held that an organizational structure based
on the corporate model of a chief executive officer and strict, hierarchical lines
of authority would be the best way of controlling and directing that pursuit.
State and federal governments pursued this structural change through such
innovations as the government corporation. Local governments adopted
council-manager structures or added city or county administrators to better
emulate business practices.
Stillmans final key doctrinal theme was a confidence in the ability of
generalist public administrators. Based on their knowledge, experience, and
professional abilities, public administrators were believed to be capable of
leading government administration, and expected to eschew self-interest and
to pursue the public interestethically, sympathetically, and wisely.
Certainly there is not universal and total agreement that these are the key
themes of the Progressive Era model of American public administration (e.g.,
Stivers, 2000). Still, they sufficiently represent the dominant model that arose
from that era to use them to help us identify key themes of American public
administration that did not arise from the Progressive Era. It is to that task that
this essay now proceeds.
PRE-PROGRESSIVE THEMES IN AMERICAN
The Progressive themes of American public administration were
influenced by the pre-progressive themes. Some of them were explicit
rejections of pre-progressive ways. Others were modifications. Still others
were creative additions. In the first century under the Constitution, politics
and administration were thoroughly enmeshed. Science had not yet
sufficiently developed to become a guiding idea for public administration.
Economy and efficiency were values to be pursued, but the techniques of
administration that made them achievable had not matured, so they were not
heavily weighted values. Top-down hierarchy was a standard organizational
model, but its approach was modeled on military relationships, and its
applicability was challenged by continental expansion and increasingly
complex societal and organizational relationships. Because their work was not
seen as terribly complicated, general skills, attitudes, and aptitudes were
deemed sufficient for public administrators.
Key Themes of the Constitutional Era
Despite claims to the contrary, there is reason to believe that the founders
of the U.S. Constitution were quite interested in administrative issues. Lynton
Caldwells book on The Administrative Theories of Hamilton and Jefferson
(1944/1988) is, perhaps, the most thorough treatment of the administrative
thought of some of the founders. In it he contrasts the thought of
Hamiltonan architect of an administrative state (p. xiv)with those of
442 Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3
Jeffersonno friend to bureaucracy, to professionalism in public
administration, or to the abstract state as the shaper and director of national
development (p. xiv), but he concludes that both considered administrative
matters to be important policy issues (p. xx). Moreover, the U.S. Civil Service
Commission has pointed out that The interest of the founders of our
Government in administrative problems is shown by the fact that, as early as
1779, they had instructed their representatives abroad to obtain and forward
copies of all decrees pertaining to administration (U.S. Civil Service
Commission, 1941, p. xvii). White says that the Federalists formed an
intelligent system of theory and practice of public administration (1948,
p. 507) and that The Jeffersonian era in the field of administration was in
many respects a projection of Federalist ideals and practice (1951, p. vii).
Much credit is given to the founding brothers (Ellis, 2000) in establishing
a system of governance, but their contributions to public administration are
often overlooked. One reason for that oversight may be related to their level of
generality, their broadness. Certainly Wilson (1887) made much of the
distinction between constitutional and administrative matters. But as Wilson
understood, the initial work of those interested in governance is likely to be at
a broader level; as more general answers are worked out, it is only natural to
move toward the more specifictoward those matters that are more obviously
administrative. When we are looking for the key themes of American public
administration, we should not ignore the importance of those initial questions
and answers for the latter ones.
Perhaps the two most basic administrative questions are: 1) Who should do
the work?; and 2) How should the work be done? Basic constitutional answers
to those questions included the separation of powers and the checks and
balances system. Different parts of the government were to be responsible for
different functions, but they were given limited powers and were subject to
restrictions that might be placed on them by other parts of the government. In
Article II, section 2, for example, the appointment of higher officials is to be
initiated by the president nominating them, but the Senate is to provide advice
and must consent before the nominations are final. Moreover, no member of
the executive branch is to hold a Congressional office at the same time. Today
we may take that restriction for granted, but it need not have been so. The
ministers of the British Cabinet almost invariably are also members of
Parliament (U.S. Civil Service Commission, 1941, p. ix). Today we do not
even need to specify that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency or
Amtrack are not to be members of Congress.
The Constitution provided little guidance on the appointment of inferior
officers, but officers did need to be appointed, so we began to develop
administrative appointment practices. Initially appointments were often based
on a notion of ability (virtue and talents) that was closely tied to the framers
belief in a natural aristocracy. Both the Federalists and anti-Federalists shared
this belief. Jefferson once wrote to Adams that, like him, he thought there is a
natural aristocracy among men[and] the form of government is best which
provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into
the offices of government (quoted in Ingraham, 1995, p. 19).
There remained, however, an additional challengethat of identifying the
natural aristoi and not confusing them with the artificial aristoi who were
advantaged by birth and wealth. Both the Federalists and the Jeffersonian
Republicans (aka anti-Federalists) had difficulty meeting that challenge and
demonstrated a preference for aristoi from their own political compatriots.
Washington made appointments for personal or political reasons (U.S. Civil
Service Commission, 1941, p. 3). Adams (also a Federalist) removed only 19
Presidential officers when he took office, but he too tended to favor
Federalists in his appointments, and when the Federalists lost the election of
1800, he made a number of midnight appointments of Federalists to
judgeships, annoying Jefferson and his followers and setting a precedent that
would feed the development of a spoils system (U.S. Civil Service
Commission, 1941, pp. 3-5). At first Jefferson sought to resist the temptation
toward spoils, adopting a policy of making no removals for political reasons,
but appointing only Republicans until a kind of balance was attained.
However, he soon discovered that vacancies were not appearing quickly
enough and began to seek reasons for removing Federalist incumbents. The
Republicans also repealed the act under which Adams made his midnight
appointments, abolishing those lifetime positions.
Though Jefferson did not put the rotation theory into practice to any
extent (U.S. Civil Service Commission, 1941, p. 8), he did advocate a theory
of rotation in office, believing that giving people a chance to serve in
government would enhance their civic education. Both Madison and Monroe
demonstrated admirable bipartisanship in their appointments, but it was under
Monroes watch that the Tenure of Office Act of 1820 was passed. It limited
some offices to one 4-year term. Combining term limits with rotation theory
set the stage for increased use of partisan spoils appointments.
The years that White has labeled the Federalist and Jeffersonian eras, thus,
answered the question of who should do the work using two guiding ideas: 1)
they should be fit, and 2) they should be politically loyal. There was also
some agreement that political loyalty should not be so highly prized that it
undermined the needs for qualified people and for a government that both
parties would support against other alternatives. Monroe, for example,
adopted what he called an amalgamation policy promoting an era of good
feeling among the partisans (U.S. Civil Service Commission, 1941, p. 11), and
one reason that Hamilton supported Jefferson over Aaron Burr in the 1800
election was his fear for the survival of the infant American nation (Ellis,
444 Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3
2000, p. 40). Party loyalties were important in the early years, but they were
trumped by the need to minimize centrifugal forces.
According to White (1948), the Federalists answered the how should
government be administered question in a number of important ways. They
supported a strong administrative leadership. Most administrative authority
was vested in the chief executive, and Congress was expected to keep out of
administrative details. Much administration was done under delegated
authority in a hierarchical chain of command and within parameters set by
law, instructions, and precedents. They expected administrators to be
accountable for their actions and their use of public funds.
Most scholars seem to agree that, among the Federalists, Hamilton was the
best administrator (e.g., Morison & Commager, 1962, p. 324; White, 1948,
p. 515). Working against a political culture supportive of tax evasion, he
directed vigorous action against late payment by importers. He required
weekly reports, removed collectors who performed poorly, insisted on
consistent interpretations of the revenue laws, and commended his collectors
when that was appropriateand further demonstrated his support of them by
seeking to improve their pay scales. Caldwells analysis of Hamiltons
approach to administration points to a number of key principles: energy, unity
of command, duration in office, power commensurate with purpose, and
personal responsibility (1988, pp. 23-30).
Quite another set of administrative principles is associated with Jefferson:
harmony (rather than energy), decentralization (rather than unity of
command), adaptability (rather than duration), simplicity (rather than power),
and responsibility enforced through legal limitations (Caldwell 1988, pp. 129-
141). But it is not clear that any of them found much expression during the
Jeffersonian years. Jeffersons inconsistencies have been thoroughly
addressed by historians (e.g., Ellis, 1997). If inconsistencies are found in his
writings, they abound when one compares his words to his actions. So, it may
not be surprising that it was not until the Jacksonian era that the Jeffersonian
principles dominated public administration in the United States (Caldwell,
1988, p. 141).
All in all, White describes the ways that administration was done in the
Federalist era as rather rudimentary (White, 1948, p. 466) and he says that the
Jeffersonian era basically continued the administrative ways of the Federalists
(White, 1951, p. vii). In the early years under the Constitution, Americans
were more interested in learning the art of self-government than the art of
administration. Moreover, while the art of public administration was not very
advanced anywhere in the world (with the possible exceptions of Prussia and
China), the art of democratic public administration had only begun to be
practiced. Looking back on how the Federalists administered, it may be
tempting to feel superior. Nonetheless, at that early stage of development,
common sense, sound judgment, initiative, and courage (White, 1948,
p. 478) may well have been sufficient for getting the job done and those
qualities were at least as readily available then as they are today.
Key Themes of the Jacksonian Era
According to Nelson, the Jacksonians had two primary objectives in
reforming American governance: to give control of government to the people
and to replace the deteriorated structures of order and authority with new ones
(1982, pp. 22-23). Political parties and the federal court system played key
roles in this reformation.
In the Jacksonian years, the political associations that had developed in the
Federalist and Jeffersonian years were institutionalized as political parties.
According to Skowronek, it was these parties and the courts that administered
and integrated the nation during most of its first century. This second phase of
post-Constitutional administration is often maligned in public administration
literature as the spoils era, but its accomplishments were vital to the survival
and success of the American experiment. Under this administrative regime,
American public administration fought wars, expropriated Indians, secured
new territories, carried on relations with other states, and aided economic
development (Skowronek, 1982, p. 19).
When Jackson took office, it was generally agreed that the number of
superannuated federal employees was a problem. If they had once been natural
aristoi, they no longer were. No retirement system had been established and
officials who were old and disabled by sickness were often kept on for
humanitarian reasons (U.S. Civil Service Commission, 1941, p. 15). It was in
this context that Jackson delivered his first annual message to Congress in
which he advocated rotation in office. He had several good reasons for
favoring rotation: duration in office could incline a person to forget their duty
to the public interest; they could instead begin to respond to special interests;
they could begin to believe that they had a property right in the office; and the
duties of public offices did not appear so complicated that their proper
fullment required people with a lot of experience (Jackson, 1976, pp. 331-
332). He did not trust officials to be virtuous and he did not think public
offices required much talent.
Jacksons reputation as the father of the spoils system is rather unfair, but
his reputation as the president who democratized American governance is well
founded and has significant implications for American public administration.
His removal and appointment practices were not very different from those of
his predecessors (Van Riper, 1958, pp. 34-36). Eriksson concluded that
Jacksons personnel practices and principles were about the same as
Jeffersons (Eriksson, 1926/1927, p. 540). On the other hand, in the
446 Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3
Jacksonian era The administrative system was captured by democratic
rotation and the common man.The structure of the federal system stood
intact; its spirit and its customs were deeply affected (White, 1954, p. 560).
The Jacksonian eras approach to administration was dependent upon
political party machinery and the courts. It was the party machinery that freed
American governance from dependence upon a patrician class (Skowronek,
1982, p. 25). According to Nelson, the social order based on that patrician
class had disintegrated and effective government could no longer rest on it
(1982, p. 24). Moreover, as White has noted, Rotation was imposed because
it was demanded from below, not merely because it was advocated from
above (1954, p. 301). Jackson had run for election promising to make
government more responsive to the common man. Rotation in office helped to
loosen the aristois grip on government office holding and to replace them
with more representative individuals.
Moreover, it was with party ties and patronage that the early American state
was able to bind each locale to a national government. Even those who were
opposed to patronage recognized its capacity as a nationalizing force. The
1826 Senate Select Committee on Executive Patronage predicted that spoils
would enable the Federal Government essentially to govern throughout the
States as effectually as if they were so many provinces of one vast empire
(quoted in U.S. Civil Service Commission, 1941, p. 15). As Tocqueville
noted, the prominent feature of early American public administration was its
excessive decentralization (1990, p. 83). The parties brought cohesion and
some degree of standardization. They organized the internal workings of
government and routinized administrative procedures. The federal patronage
appointee became the embodiment of a series of concrete ties between
President and Congress and between local and national governments
(Skowronek, 1982, p. 25).
Complementing the concrete administrative role of parties, the courts
established the governance infrastructure for administrative activities. They
arbitrated disputes among the power brokers in the nascent system of
governance. Within the parameters set by the Constitution, they shaped and
defined the authority of local, state, and federal governments. Making ample
use of the common law, they also established important precedents regarding
government-business relations, became the regulators of corporate behavior,
and played a significant role as promoters of economic development. In short,
The courts had become the American surrogate for a more fully developed
administrative apparatus (Skowronek, 1982, p. 28).
Nelson says that political parties during the Jacksonian era were significant
contributors to the establishment of a majoritarian authority structure (1982,
especially pp. 9-40). If the parties came to represent the institutionalization of
the democratic impulse in the Jacksonian years, the courts and the lawyers
might be seen as having embodied the aristocratic impulse in American
political culture. Just as the party workers linked the government to the
common man, when the era of the aristoi was over, the lawyers and judges
acted as a surrogate aristocracy (Skowronek, 1982, p. 32). Democratic
administration needs to address both impulses. It needs to retain some
connection with the people and to find some way to engage especially
qualified people in making the democracy run effectively.
In the first 40 years after the Constitution, the emphasis was upon holding
the nation together by making the government operate effectively. By the time
Jackson was elected, holding the nation together required reviving the
connection with the people. The thrill of 1776 and the commitments to the
1789 constitution were no longer sufficient. Political parties and the courts
represented practicable solutions to the administrative challenges of the day.
American public administrators should not squirm at this part of their
history. They should recognize and celebrate our ability to find more than one
way to run our Constitution. Even one of the Jacksonian Eras most severe
critics has granted there could be no doubt in 1860 that a new force had been
introduced into the system.This new element was democracy.It was an
innovation that deserves to rank in its influence, both in its own time and in
succeeding generations with the original doctrines on which the system was
based (White, 1954, p. 566).
During the first century after adopting the Constitution, American public
administration began to grapple with some of the most basic and difficult
problems faced in democratic administration. Their answers were not always
consistent but they established key themes for American public
administration. For example, whether the question of who should administer
was answered with an emphasis on fitness for office or responsiveness to the
citizens, it was an answer that dealt with a fundamental issue in American
public administration. Through each resolution of the basic questions we
learned something about the advantages and disadvantages of various
reasonable approaches. No one should fault them if their answers were not
final ones. In a democracy, we probably would not want them to be. As initial
answers, they do represent important influences on what was to follow.
KEY THEMES OF POST-PROGRESSIVE AMERICAN
There are also key themes for American public administration that have
been added or reinforced since the Progressive Era. Whether even the
Progressive Era truly represented an era of orthodoxy or not, it is generally
agreed that after that era the orthodoxy was transcended. According to
Stillman, From the late 1940s onward, public administration was
448 Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3
transformed into a vastly broader, more enriched, and more dynamic field
(1991, p. 125). Because of the number and diversity of the perspectives
involved in that transformation, it will be possible here only to make rough
generalizations and provide short capsule summaries of some specific
Generally, in post-progressive public administration the key themes of
Progressive public administration have not been discarded so much as they
have been added to, transcended, and transformed. The relationship between
politics and administration is no longer depicted as a dichotomy, but there
remains a distinction. Science and scientific processes are not seen as
providing all the answers, but they are still used to inform our decisions and
approaches. Economy and efficiency are not discarded as values to be
pursued, but they are not so frequently the dominant values. Top-down
hierarchy has not disappeared as an organizational model, but it has been
supplemented by matrix organizations, quality circles and other nonhierarchical approaches. There still remains a need for generalist public
administrators, but increasing complexity and growing utilization of
technology in the tasks of public administration has fostered greater need for
Some of the indicators of the post-progressive transformation are found in
the practice of governance. Rosenbloom, for example, has identified 1946 as a
watershed year in post-progressive public administration. In that year
Congress passed four important statutes (Administrative Procedures Act,
Legislative Reorganization Act, Federal Tort Claims Act, and Employment
Act) that together set a frame for legislative-centered public
administrationa kind of public administration that directly challenged the
politics/administration dichotomy by viewing administrative agencies as
extensions of Congress. It also was intended to ensure that constitutional and
democratic values were infused into American public administration by
emphasizing such values as representativeness, participation, openness,
responsiveness, procedural safeguards, and public accountability
(Rosenbloom, 2000, p. xi). According to Rosenbloom, this framework has
remained quite durable over the years, being reinforced numerous times
through additional legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act (1966),
the Inspector General Act (1978), the Paperwork Reduction Acts (1980 and
1995), and the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (1966).
More recently the reinvention movement and the Clinton administrations
National Performance Review have promoted increased use of the market and
of market mechanisms (Gore, 1993; Osborn & Gaebler, 1993). As Kettl
(1994) has pointed out, the use of these approaches may be increasing, but
they are not new to American public administration. It is also true that a
common theme of Progressive Era public administration involved the
desirability of becoming more businesslike in the pursuit of efficiency.
Nonetheless, reinvention and the NPR do represent a significantly different
frame for public administration. It is a frame that at least diminishes (if not
destroys) the distinction between the public and private sectors. Thus, if it
were to be followed to its logical conclusion, it could represent the end of an
approach to the administration of social cooperation that is distinctively public
(cf. Lindblom, 2001; Luton, 1996). Fortunately, things are seldom followed to
their logical conclusions.
Similarly, the increasing use of nonprofit organizations to deliver public
services can be viewed as representing either a significant change in the frame
for public administration or (at least) a distinctively different approach to
providing collective goods or achieving collective ends. Salamon sees the
non-profit sector as like the public sector in existing to address needs that the
market system is ill suited to serve. But he also says that the non-profit sector
exists to address collective needs that the public sector has failed to serve
adequately (2001, pp. 164-165). Ascertaining the proper roles of the private,
non-profit and public sectors in serving societys needs was not part of the
Progressive Era frame.
Other key aspects of the post-progressive frames of public administration
are found in intellectual reconsiderations of public administration. The 1968
Minnowbrook Conference represents one example of an intellectual
reframing of American public administration. Arising from the troubled times
of domestic unrest and the Vietnam War and envisioned as an opportunity for
a new generation of public administration scholars to set an agenda for the
field, the Minnowbrook conferences reframing came to be known as New
Public Administration. The new label represented some sort of movement
in the direction of normative theory, philosophy, social concern, activism
(Waldo, 1971, p. xvi). It moved away from positivism (but did not reject it
entirely), was ambivalent in its attitude toward techniques, and was energized
by a new attention to values such as social equity:
A Public Administration which fails to work for changes which try to
redress the deprivation of minorities will likely be eventually used to
repress those minorities.Social equity, then, includes activities
designed to enhance the political power and economic well-being of
these minorities. (Frederickson, 1971, p. 311)
The New Public Administration not only rejected the idea of neutral
competence, it promoted active policy advocacy.
A similar example is found in work begun in the Blacksburg Manifesto
and further developed in the work of many of its contributors and their
students. Wamsley has described their reframing as based on a specific set of
values that are quite distinctive from the Progressive Era values: social equity,
wider citizen participation, explicit treatment of norms and values in
450 Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3
administrative theory, attention to the relationship between knowledge and
action, a critical perspective on pluralism, and a challenge to the Progressive
faith in science by challenging logical positivism and empiricism (Wamsley
et al., 1990, p. 20).
Surveying public administration theory in 1999 and thinking ahead to the
21st century, Stivers concluded that there appear to be only two potential
directions for public administration theory: public management or postmodernism. She saw public management as an extension of the Progressive
effort to turn public administration into a science and advised against their
fruitless quest for final truths and unarguable values (Stivers, 1999,
pp. 520, 522). While she said that she did not subscribe fully to a post-modern
perspective, she saw value in its implications for how to deal reasonably with
the uncertainty and ambiguity that seem to be inherent in both the study and
practice of public administration.
Promoters of the public management perspective explicitly reject
traditional public administrations emphasis on hierarchy, efficiency,
accountability, and neutral competence. In place of hierarchy they prefer
decentralized market mechanisms. While not opposed to efficiency and
accountability, they are more concerned about liberating managers to pursue
effectiveness. Directly opposed to neutral competence, they envision public
managers as powerful actors in policymaking and implementation. They
remain optimistic about the contribution that positivist social science can
make to dealing with the problems of public administration (e.g., Bozeman,
1979, p. vi; Lynn, 1996, p. 6), but they are not likely to be pleased with any
suggestion that their work is similar to Progressive Era scientific management.
Lynn refers to this aspect of public management as an emphasis on the
analytic dimension and identifies economics and quantitative policy
analysis as key elements of public managements intellectual roots (1996,
pp. 56-57). In public management the analytical dimension would be put to
service through the discretion of public managers in persuading people to
pursue strategies aimed at achieving a specific mission. In sum, there are key
differences between public management and the progressive orthodoxy, but
they are similar in their confidence in science and promotion of public
managers power within the governance system.
Few would disagree that postmodern approaches to public administration
represent a non-progressive frame for public administration. Fox and Miller,
for example, have pronounced the progressive orthodoxy dead, consider the
politics/administration dichotomy thoroughly discredited, and dismiss
scientific rationalism and bureaucratic hierarchy as sometimes successful
(1996, p. 3). They offer a new approach based on discourse theory and an
attention to public policy rather than bureaucracy. Their version of postmodern public administration aims at a new framework that can withstand
postmodern conditions, on the one hand, and can claim congruence with
democratic ideals, on the other (Fox & Miller, 1996, p. 7). Admonishing us to
no longer make the bureaucracy the dominant focus in public administration,
they offer instead an indeterminate collection of phenomenological moments
we call a public energy field (Fox & Miller, 1996, p. 9). Focusing on action
and agonistic tension, their concept of public administration is more open,
inclusive, and dynamic than that of the Progressive Era.
David Farmers anti-administration (which he describes as having
affinities with postmodernism, but not equivalent to it) is significantly
defined by its openness and interest in promoting energy (Farmer, 2001,
pp. 475-492). It is openness that seeks understandings both from mainstream
and from marginalized or excluded perspectives.It is unrelenting openness
(2001, p. 481). The anti in anti-administration is largely (but not simply)
against the limitations of the progressive orthodoxy. In analyzing
bureaucratic questions, there is a failure to focus enough on the nonbureaucratic, the non-systematic, the non-mechanical (2001, p. 481). Farmer
hopes to undermine the efficiency model, the economist attitude, hierarchy
and patriarchy, but anti-administration is explicitly not so much a rejection of
the mainstream as a consciousness that is shaped by it. Anti-administration
hopes through its dynamic relationship with the mainstream to shape new
approaches to public administration. It is an imaginative and playful attempt
to loosen up public administration.
Certainly, other examples could be included in this essay, but those above
are probably sufficient to make the point: not only were there significant
frames for American public administration prior to the Progressive Era, many
frames have been added since the Progressive Era. We should not be surprised
or disappointed that the reframings of the post-Progressive years continued to
struggle with some of the same questions that the pre-Progressive framers
were attempting to answer. For example, the question regarding whom we
should depend upon to do the work of democratic public administration
continues to hold our attention. In our answers to that question, we still
struggle with reaching an appropriate balance among such values as
competence, responsiveness, efficiency and effectiveness. Whether any of the
answers offered during this era will have lasting impacts is something that we
will all have to wait to see.
This essay began by identifying key Progressive Era themes for public
administration. It then reviewed pre-Progressive themes in an attempt to show
that the Progressive Eras foundation was one in a series of framings and
reframings. Next it was demonstrated that Post-Progressive reframings of
452 Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3
American public administration were conscious of and affected by previous
framings. The basic argument in this essay is that there have been many
framings of American public administration. The Progressive Era is not the
foundation for American Public Administration. Non-Progressive themes are
found in both pre-Progressive and Post-Progressive thought and practices. In
all three-time periods American public administrators have attempted to deal
with complex and vexing questions regarding appropriate approaches to
democratic public administration.
In assessing what this means, rather than seeing the eras as distinct from
each other, I think it would be better to see them as related to each other. The
accident of time helps to define some aspects of their relationships. That
which comes later may add to or respond to that which has come earlier.
Hamiltons preference for a strong administrative state was partly conditioned
on the failures of American governance under the Articles of Confederation.
A long train of abuses and usurpations shaped Jeffersons distrust of
centralized government. The Jacksonian spoils system was a response to the
threat of aristocratic dominance coming out of the previous era. The
management movement/Progressive Eras rejection of partisan spoils
approaches was premised on the Jacksonian era experience. Post-modern
preferences for open and creative approaches are, in part, responses to
problems arising from the bureaucratic and mechanical character of
Progressive Era public administration.
As Kiel and Elliott (1999) have pointed out, approaches to public
administration in the U.S. need to be understood as taking shape in response to
changes in social, political, and economic context. There is no one best way to
approach public administration, only ways that are better (or more poorly)
suited to the expectations and values of a given time. Progressive Era
American public administration was one resolution of the question: How best
might we manage the public affairs of the nation? Aspects of that resolution
retain significance for us today, but so do aspects of the resolutions arrived at
in the Federalist, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, and other eras. Jefferson may have
gone too far when he suggested that each generation needed to form its own
constitution, but it seems not so radical (and historically accurate) to suggest
that within the relatively stable parameters of the Constitution we are well
advised periodically to modify our approaches to public administration to suit
the times in which we live. One way to enhance the probability that we will
find appropriate approaches to public administration is to recognize our
history of diverse frames and not be so focused on the Progressive Era.
1. In this essay I will utilize the terms frame, framing, reframing, etc. to designate
ideas or actions that guided and delimited public administration thoughts and practices.
Some might prefer the terms foundations, founding, refounding, etc., but those terms
connote more solidity and permanence than I want to imply. Fox and Miller have used
the phrases sedimented habitual comportments and recursive practices to refer to
ideas and actions that have had greater impacts over time than others (1996, pp. 84,109).
I have previously (1999b) borrowed Murray Gell-Manns phrase frozen accidents
(1994, p. 231) to recognize the greater impact over time of some ideas and actions. In
using variations of the term frame, I do not mean to deny such differential impacts, only
to diminish the temptation to think of them as solidly fixed, inviolable, or permanent.
Even the most foundational ideas and actions are subject to altered understanding,
reinterpretation, and/or reconsideration.
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Larry S. Luton is a professor of public administration at Eastern Washington
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Administration. His main research interests revolve around environmental policy
administration and the history of public administration. In 2002-2003 he is spending
nine months in the Russian Federation as a Fulbright Fellow.
456 Administrative Theory & Praxis Vol. 24, No. 3
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