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Public Administration and the Prevailing Political Regime, Part 2

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Thomas L. Bertone

Our Federal Government Operates Within An Economic Conservative Regime. Morton Keller’s third American regime has lasted from 1932 until today. In terms of this essay, it is an Economic Conservative regime. Since the Progressive Era, when the second regime began to change into the third regime, the battle between our two parties has been over the role of government in our economic system, the degree to which the market needs assistance from government. Today, it is commonly expected that a presidential candidate will have an aggressive economic and social agenda, for which s/he will seek a mandate, and that the winning candidate will give priority to implementing that agenda. The Chief Executive as Political Leader is very nearly the only model of leadership that the American electorate recognizes today as legitimate.

Nevertheless, vestiges of the second Conservative Democratic regime remain. Separate authorization and appropriation laws are used for budgeting, and the Iron Triangle is still used for congressional control.

A federal public administrator, then, can assume that a new administration will have an agenda that it will attempt to implement. The administration will expect its public administrators to help implement that agenda, to subordinate maximizing efficiency, effectiveness, and economy to that implementation effort, and to maximize efficiency, effectiveness, and economy within the context of that implementation effort. At the same time, the administrator can assume that the Congress may seek to exercise some control over herself/himself in the implementation of the agenda.

On the other hand, a new administration that is not Economic Conservative in intent can expect to encounter institutional resistance to its political and administrative plans and to have difficulty succeeding. Public administrators can expect to be consumed by assisting the administration to succeed, with little opportunity to maximize efficiency, effectiveness, and economy.

At The State And Local Level, Regimes Probably Vary By Place. If America had a unitary governmental system, subordinate governments would be part of the unitary governmental system and regime. Since America has a federal system, each state government and its local governments have developed as a separate governmental system within a separate regime. The state regimes, however, are constrained by and are reflective of the national regime.

I know of no source that documents controlling regimes at the state and local level. To the contrary, an article by Jeffrey L. Brudney and Deil S. Wright on the American State Administrators Project in our January/February 2010 Public Administration Review reports a good deal of variation among state governments in the practice of administration. An examination of Website data for the project suggests that it is not uncommon for state legislatures to exercise more influence of over executive agencies than governors, e.g., that legislatures are more important in initiating program priority changes. This implies that Economic Conservative regimes do not hold sway at the state and local level. If true, public administrators themselves need to identify the controlling regime in the states in which they work.

In identifying at the state level, Economic Conservative regimes will undoubtedly be noted. Care should be taken in distinguishing between Conservative Republican and Conservative Democratic regimes. It is probable that Conservative Republican regimes were not uncommon in the old Democratic South. It seems unlikely that many Liberal Democratic regimes will be identified.

In conclusion, public administrators are educated to maximize efficiency, effectiveness, and economy in government. They do so most appropriately in support of the higher priority political objectives of the controlling executive administration. In doing so, that which is maximized efficiency, effectiveness, and economy in one environment is not necessarily that which is maximized efficiency, effectiveness, and economy in another environment, neither in processes nor in substantive results. Thus, the work environment under a job title in one government may vary significantly from the work environment under the same job title in a different government. And, performance comparisons, e.g., benchmarks, across governments should be undertaken with great caution.

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