Between Politics and Public Administration, By IfeOluwa Dada
The idea of a dichotomy between Politics and Public Administration is one of the key issues with the discipline of Public Administration. The first notably call in that regard is often traced back to former US President, Woodrow Wilson. The classic bureaucrat in a seminar article in 1887 inked that "both politics and administrations are two distinct spheres and has its own group of functionaries"
Wilson advocacy came during an era of gross corruption in the public administrative system of the US, an era that would later earn the tag "Spoilt Politics". The dichotomy debate lingers till date.
However, although both Politics and Public Administration appear to be growing as distinct discipline lately, there interconnectedness can not be downplayed. Politics, widely accepted, especially by the classical school of its conception to mean "authoritative allocation of values" is largely a venture of a class in the society called Politically Executives.
This class forms the most of public affairs, whether through the mandate of the people via elections, or through other means like appointment. These political executives aggregate public interest, create a task from it and set agendas through initiation, formulation and implementation of policies and programs towards the interest of the public.
The other kind of executives in the public space are who we love to call Civil Servants. These executives are responsible for the implementation of the agendas set by the political executives. They are the most valuable resources with which the state operates. The running of the state's men, money and materials for public interest and objectives is what is called Public Administration.
Against the argument that public administrators act as rational and unitary actors void of external influence like politics, Graham Allison gushed in his Bureaucratic Politics theory that to understand the actions of a state, one must understand the rules governing it's decision making processes and the motivations of the actors participating.
Allison believed that public administrators often pursue policies that benefit the interest of the organization which they represent rather than national or collective interest. This argument is usually described in the statement "where you stand depends on where you sit". The interest bias is another strong proof of politics in the practice of public administration .
Concerning Administrators being unitary actors, Allison argued otherwise. He noted that decision making in bureaucratic organizations is usually preceded by forms of competitions and struggles. The struggle is characterized by core components of politics like bargaining, persuasion, negotiation, discussion, compromise, lobbying and so on interplay in decision making in bureaucratic organizations, which also plays out in the of making foreign policy, thus making the decisions "political results",
Public administration in practice is therefore as Rosenblom puts it, agglomeration of "activities that are concerned with the politics of policy making, including procedures for implementing such". Thus proving the dichotomy argument to be utopia.
Politics therefore does not start or end with the politicians, it also stretches it's domineering hands into the practice of public administration. Politicians do not only set policy, they also influence the process of it's execution.
While this reality might appear scary or unacceptable to many, especially those apologetic to the a distinct public administration establishment, there is however at least a positive to hold on to in the cycle. It is that a sincere and effective political class is able to influence a weak bureaucracy like in the days of Wilson in the US and more recently Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom.
The influence notwithstanding, the administrative executive can hold it's own by sticking to the principles and ethics of the discipline of administration, he needs not get into the usual battle of supremacy with the political class which often leads to lack of coercion between the two and responsible to an appreciable extent for the failure of government and it's institutions in many climes. With this, the effectiveness and efficiency for which government and it's institutions exist can be better attained.