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Why it is Amazing that Public Servants can Administrate at All, Part 2

This article is the second in a two-part series. To read last week’s article, click the link in the Related Articles box below. If you would like to submit an article to PA TIMES Online, contact Editor Christine Jewett McCrehin at [email protected].

Alexandru V. Roman

The Hypocrisy of Expectations
In terms of dealing with inherent tensions that are present in public administration–public servants receive little practical help from academics. The gap between theory and practice has grown wider in the last decade. This should not come as a shock to anyone. A major reason for the divorce between practice and theory is the inability of the latter to “make up its mind” in terms of mixing efficiency (bureaucracy) and democracy.

Dwight Waldo believed that there is a tendency of the administration to be captured by the idea of efficiency and forget about democracy. While Waldo is credited with pointing the tension out, the actual divergence in the American society can be traced back at least as far as the differences between Hamilton’s administrative design, Madison’s pragmatic perspectives and Jefferson’s democratic hopes. Since then, the resolution of the two contradictory imperatives has been haunting the field. Thus far, none of the reconciliation efforts have been particular successful, and even fewer have provided any practical suggestions.

In the end as Waldo in his 1977 book Democracy, Bureaucracy and Hypocrisy noted, all these partially blind efforts of removing the dialectic between democracy and bureaucracy will inevitably lead to hypocrisy. Louis Gawthrop in the 1997 PAR article “Democracy, Bureaucracy, and Hypocrisy Redux: A Search for Sympathy and Compassion”, asserts that asking public managers to satisfy contradictory demands under changing constraints will lead to an “…effort to create a pretension of service by maintaining a convincing appearance of duty…Within a hypocritical democratic vision, administrative neutrality creates an artificial innocence that detaches itself from any sense of responsibility for the consequences of the public policy process. But such a pretension of innocence hardly serves the profession well…[it] results in imposing a heavy burden of hypocrisy most directly on the bureaucracy.”

I do not have any big answers or even any big questions; however, I do have one big suggestion – public administration theory should “have” plenty of public servants in it. It is not enough to note the importance of public managers only during difficult times or when major failures occur. Administrators should be an important part of policy-making and a driving force behind the knowledge creation process in public administration theory.

At this moment, this is the only manner that I see possible alleviating the hypocrisy nurtured by conflicting demands, and to correct the possible alienation of talented public managers from public service. In any other case public servants will get stuck in the scapegoat role, somewhere in between the promises of politics and the complexity of administration. Any reform effort that does not acknowledge the predicament of public servants and does not trust them will simply generate un-updated versions of the mask of hypocrisy.

To my best knowledge, in spite of all the unrealistic demands, underfunding and unfitting derogatory discourse, public servants are still keeping this country running. Compared to the rest of the world is running relatively smoothly. Public managers are educated in a society that takes pride in emphasizing democratic values. It is very likely that they will be able to transfer these values within the contexts of their decision-making processes…that is, if they would be trusted and allowed to do that.

ASPA member Alexandru V. Roman is a doctoral student in the School of Public Administration, at Florida Atlantic University. Email: [email protected]

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