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Public Administration Education

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Deborah T. Johnson
March 15, 2019

Public administrators and the idea of public administration itself plays an important part in the laws that govern everything around us. Such aspects include the stop signs and stoplights at the intersections we frequent, the repairs and preventative maintenance performed on fire hydrants, the plumbing in our homes and neighborhoods, the stray animals and nuisances within or near our communities and even how the taxes we pay are allocated to local schools. As such, education is vital to government agencies.

As referenced in the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Public Administration is the implementation of government policies.” This would include policy and program management, planning, organizing, directing, coordinating and controlling the day-to-day operations within the government. In graduate school, I studied Luther Gulick, a famed social scientist in the field of public administration. Gulick coined the acronym POSDCORB; Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Co-ordinating, Reporting and Budgeting.

As we focus on the day-to-day operations within any department, you can begin to understand that planning for natural disasters, organizing a team that will manage the pothole problems that we face each day, and hiring the most qualified, educated and trainable individuals with complex and technical skillsets corresponds with Gulick’s theory. You can also understand how the Houston Police Department and the Department of Neighborhoods team up to direct and coordinate a neighborhood watch, combat gang violence and stop human trafficking.

Reporting and budgeting also play a huge part in funding the needs of specific departments. Budgeting affects things like providing equipment and vehicles for the Public Works Department, obtaining resources for first responders and providing adequate library facilities for communities and special projects. Gulick’s theory on organization within public administration and management could not be truer today.

Public administration is an undervalued field compared to accounting, finance, law and marketing. This is partly due to low salaries, minimum opportunities for promotions and absolutely no chance of the “good old annual bonus.” Those who understand the field of public administration also know that it is a death trap, so to speak, for a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. This is due to, unfortunately, individual agendas, policies and laws which govern public administrators.

My high school teachers formed the idea in my head that success meant becoming an attorney, accountant or architect in some corporate office. I thought that those who went into public administration started in the mailroom, or as a receptionist or equipment worker with little education needed. Many did not regard “city jobs” as a professional field associated with public administrators. Many individuals only gauge the importance of public administration and education when we come upon election season. Then we begin to question the who, what, where, when and how of individuals, laws and processes.

Public administration education prepares individuals to serve the public in a transparent and ethical manner, despite the reputation that has plagued the government field. It also plays a crucial role in making public administrators accountable for all their actions. In many cases, some public administrators have skated on thin ice and pretty much fallen in when it came to ethics. However, being vastly informed and educated in the field would better prepare them for the do’s and don’ts while avoiding all mishaps. Public administrators are held to a higher standard with regard to integrity, respect, ethics, education and honesty.

As public administrators, we work in situations that are unforeseen, unpredictable, questionable and sometimes grueling. We understand that each day is very different from the next, as situations happen within a matter of minutes. At that point, we must stand firm on our values: to operate in a manner of professionalism, providing expertise and familiarity, staying abreast on all policies and procedures, understanding how to address the public, and among all things, doing what is ethically and morally right. I have told many fellow administrators, “If your actions cannot be justified within a city policy, then you need to rethink and seek other options.”

Public administrators implement, coordinate, manage and oversee the various levels of government. They must be able to effectively and professionally communicate and coordinate government business between departments and stakeholders. Public administrators must have the knowledge and skillsets to explain and advise on basic and complex policies and procedures. The public and other government agencies depend on public administrators to have first-hand, hands-on knowledge of the daily operations within their agency. This helps eliminate wasteful spending, misuse of funds, supplies, equipment and unethical practices among public administrators.

In closing, public administration education seeks to reduce the problematic issues that resonate within many government agencies. It educates and informs individuals and seeks to create a system that works for all. Essentially, we are what keeps the government functioning. Citizens and stakeholders rely on us to be professional, empathetic and most importantly, educated.

Deborah T. Johnson, MPA
Administrative Professional
Master’s in Public Administration/Public Policy, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas
[email protected]

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