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Waldo in the Light of Austerity and Federal Debt Crisis, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 2 part series. To read Part 2 click on the link in the Related Articles box at the end of this article.

Jan Kallberg

Dwight Waldo wrote The Enterprise of
Public Administration
in 1979 looking back on a long and fruitful academic
career, but also as a reflection about the future for public administration. Can a 30 year old book still be
relevant? You bet.

Today, the public sector is
increasingly facing fiscal challenges. Federal, state, and local governments
throughout the country have major budget deficits followed by austerity measures
that undermine the ability to deliver the good life of the future. In this day
and age rereading Dwight Waldo’s The Enterprise of Public Administration is
an intellectual exercise worth pursuing. Several of Dwight Waldo’s comments
have been accurate and many of today’s issue–debt crisis, e-government, trust
in government, and confidence in the future of the welfare systems–are discussed.

In the United States, modern societies
are established on a foundation of economic growth, abundance, and consensus, but
a new paradigm of scarcity, decay, and conflict is increasing pressure on
public administration. This is a radical shift that Waldo foresaw. Waldo raised
the question that if the central glue that holds society together is the
expectation of more, what does that
lead to? Waldo meant that if we build our society around a government that
always delivers more services, benefits, and progress, what would happen if
there were less in the future? Today, facing a large federal debt and an
unprecedented federal deficit, we might have arrived at the point Waldo
described when we no longer can promise more.

Throughout his career, Waldo presented
a few principles that he used as a framework to explain, question, and discuss
public administration and other scholars’ theories.

The first principle suggests that
there is conflict between bureaucracy and democracy that forces and obliges
public servants to protect democratic values.
Bureaucracy must consider not
only administrative but democratic values and outcome. This also makes it
impossible to run government fully as a business as businesses do not have to
consider these values and norms.

Second, there is no dichotomy
between politics and bureaucracy.
The traditional separation between principal
and agent was for Waldo theoretically interesting, but realistically
impossible. In the contemporary political environment, it is obvious that the
federal government is interwoven with politics, for better or worse, but it
might be necessary. In an environment where budgets are reduced and projects
abandoned it could be necessary, to avoid wasting money on projects and
programs that are no have political support, to ensure political support early.

Third, Waldo noted that ruthless pursuit
for efficiency must be offset with consideration of public access.
efficiency can be excessive and harmful to the interests of the people.
According to Waldo, if efficiency is the only consideration, then bureaucracy
fails to serve the people. This is clearly visible in the dichotomy of
e-government where the bureaucracy prefers administrative excellence and doing
the bureaucratic work faster and more accurate online, meanwhile empowering
citizens using a citizen-centric approach instead might increase administrative
burden and costs.

Last, Waldo considered government to
be more complex than business; therefore, it must be managed differently.
Constitution is a vital steering document for government, but it has limited
implications in the daily life of a business. One example of government’s
complexity is that far more stakeholders impact public administration in
comparison to a business operation.

According to Waldo, bureaucracy was
instrumental to implementing revolutionary technologies in modern societies. In
2006, over 50 percent of all adult Americans used government websites to inquire, be
served, and interact with government. In 2010, 67 percent of all Americans online used
governmental websites, which is a higher percentage than the number of
Americans who engage in social media and social networking sites such as
Facebook according to Pew Internet and American Life Project. The Internet
enlarged the public sphere and more vocal stakeholders increase complexity for
public executives, especially in times of scarcity and re-allocation of public
resources. Today’s online communities, which form a new civic society, are
products of the Internet which can spill over to traditional peaceful activism
that supports our democracy.

Watch for Part 2 of this 2 part series next Monday, August 15, 2011.

Jan Kallberg is a recent graduate from School of Economic,
Political & Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas. Email: [email protected]

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