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Alternative Roles For Professional Public Managers, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a two part series. Part 2 will be published Monday, May 30, 2011.

Thomas L. Bertone

In the June 28, 2010, Online PA TIMES, I point out: that multiple models of public administration exist, e.g., the Bureaucratic, Entrepreneurial, Steward, and Iron Triangle Models; that four political groupings can be identified (Cultural Conservatives, Economic Conservatives, Conservative Democrats, and Liberal Democrats), each reflecting a political philosophy; and that each political grouping is most compatible with one public administration model.

Later in the article, I state that: “… governments at state, federal, and, perhaps, local levels are controlled by representatives of political groupings that have different visions of what is to be accomplished and how to do it. The roles that they expect career civil servants to play differ accordingly.” The question then arises as what roles the political bosses expect civil servants to play. This article is intended to answer that question for each political grouping/public administration model combination.

In doing so, this article concentrates upon career public managers. Career public employees at the working level are assumed to be either specialists in public administration functions, e.g., human resources, financial management, procurement, or information technology, or specialists in substantive operations, e.g., welfare, transportation, police, etc…. All career employees are assumed to be knowledgeable about improving efficiency, effectiveness, and economy in their areas of specialty.

What do political bosses expect of professional public managers in each of the four combinations? The answers are given below.

Under the Culture Conservative/Bureaucratic Model Combination, Career Public Managers Are Experts in the Interplay Between the Ethics And Values of the Culture and the Systems And Procedures of the Bureaucracy. Under the Cultural Conservative philosophy, society evolves; and the legislature, through legislation, approves or disapproves the changes as being consistent or inconsistent, respectively, with the traditional culture. The executive branch changes in response to new legislation. Society and government, therefore, are stable and predictable; and change is incremental. There are few major initiatives and no surprises. In this context, the executive strives to improve the efficiency of existing programs.

Cultural Conservative political appointees should be cultural models who personify traditional values. They supervise career managers to ensure incorruptible government, stable and predictable government, and increasingly efficient government. Their goal is to protect the nation and its culture.

Political appointees expect career managers themselves to personify the ethics and values of the culture and to be incorruptible vis-à-vis these ethics and values. They expect managers to know intimately both the personnel and the systems and procedures of the bureaucracy so that government proceeds effortlessly and smoothly. They also, expect managers to understand how to re-engineer systems and procedures consistent with cultural values and ethics.

In summary, political appointees expect career managers to constitute a fraternity of experts that runs the executive without problems.

Under the Economic Conservative/ Entrepreneurial Model Combination, Career Managers Are Experts in Policy and Program Change and Knowledgeable about Weaknesses in Existing Policies and Programs. Under the Economic Conservative philosophy, the market solves most problems. The task of government is to assist the market, as necessary. A new administration comes to power with an agenda of policy and program prescriptions concerning the role of government and a mandate to implement that agenda. The administration is entrepreneurial.

Political appointees are loyalists of the new chief executive, and they understand the agenda. Their job is to implement the agenda and control implementation so that implementation adheres to prescription. It is also to ensure the effectiveness of established governmental policy and programs. To ease implementation and modification of established policies and programs, appointees prefer the flexible techniques of New Public Management.

Appointees expect career managers to be loyal to the new administration and dedicated to helping it accomplish its agenda. To assist implementation and change, they expect managers to be knowledgeable about both existing processes for changing policies and programs and the techniques of New Public Management, including contract management. The also expect managers to know about the character (weaknesses) of existing policies and programs so as to assist improvement.

In summary, political appointees expect career managers to function as a pool of implementation and improvement consultants. Appointees understand the agenda; career managers understand existing processes. Together they implement the agenda.

Thomas L. Bertone is retired president, Thomas L. Bertone and Associates (Management Consultants). Email: [email protected]

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