The "Old" Public Management versus the "New" Public Management: Where Does Public Administration Fit In?

By Riccucci, Norma M. | Public Administration Review, March 2001 | Go to article overview

The "Old" Public Management versus the "New" Public Management: Where Does Public Administration Fit In?


Riccucci, Norma M., Public Administration Review


Larry Lynn's piece, "The Myth of the Bureaucratic Paradigm," is provocative to say the least. I come to this admission not because of the overwhelming popularity of Lynn's work or my enduring "affection for the author or ... the prestige [this] author confers on the field" (Lynn, 145; see also Karl 1976), but because of the intellectual merit the essay demonstrates. I couldn't agree more with Lynn's overall premise and his conclusion that the traditional bureaucratic paradigm of public administration has proven to be much more responsive to democratic values than has the revisionists' new, customer-oriented managerialism. And, not to be overlooked, for an "outsider," Lynn (152) provides a respectable and comprehensive review of the intellectual heritage of the field of public administration.

That said, I fundamentally disagree with many of Lynn's assertions. In particular, I disagree with one of his central theses: that students of public administration have failed to adequately challenge the New Public Management. I also take issue with another theme that runs, perhaps more obliquely, throughout Lynn's piece: the methodological claims and interests of the New Public Management as compared with those of the "old" public management. Here, Lynn seems to suggest that, due to a tradition of being "unduly careless," not only the New Public Management but the broader field of public administration itself "seems to have let lapse [its] moral and intellectual authority" (145, 155).

Let me begin by parting company with Lynn's assertions that traditional public administration was unable to mount a sound, meaningful challenge to revisionist thought advanced by the New Public Management. On the contrary, a number of public administrationists virulently attacked the New Public Management, particularly its reinventing government or National Performance Review (NPR) manifestations. For example, there were many attacks against the NPR on the grounds that it failed to account for the realpolitik of government (see, for example, Carroll 1995; Frederickson 1996; Moe 1994; Rosenbloom 1993). In particular, many challenged the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of the NPR, which, they argued, confute the fundamental principles of democracy and constitutional rule. Central to their argument was that the NPR's call for a shift from administrative bureaucracy to entrepreneurial organizations ignores the very nature of democratic government and how it evolved in the United States (Goodsell 1993).

Moe (1994) points out that the NPR fails to account for critical differences between the government and private sectors, and, in particular, ignores the constitutional premise that government is based on a rule of law and not market-driven mechanisms. He states that "the government of the United States is a government of laws passed by the representatives of the people assembled in Congress. It is the constitutional responsibility of the President and his duly appointed and approved subordinates to see that these laws, wise and unwise, are implemented" (112). The "subordinates" would, in turn, be accountable to the president, not customers of government agencies, for the execution of the laws of the land.

For Moe, the bottom line is the supremacy of an institutional presidency, where the president relies on the constitutional powers granted to the executive office in governing the country. This contrasts with what Nathan (1983) called the administrative presidency, where the president exerts control over the bureaucracy by administrative fiat, and, as some have argued, by circumventing rules, regulations, the law, and Congress's constitutional jurisdiction over the bureaucracy.

Similarly, Carroll (1995) sees the political objective of the NPR as changing the balance of power, control, and authority over the federal bureaucracy. A presumption of power would rest in the executive branch, and Congress would have little or no role in executive administration. …

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