International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

will. If his support is protected, the public official will act more vigorously and objectively. Civil service protection today rests upon the same premise.

Competent powers refers to the basic administrative principle of granting authority commensurate with responsibility. To Hamilton, the executive should enjoy great powers within the context of constitutional checks and balances. He should be the leader among the constitutional equals. With a relatively unified hierarchy of officials below him, the executive is most capable of presiding over systematic and multifaceted policies. This did not mean that the President should "manage" all executive affairs himself. As the title implies, he should "preside" over a wide array of very significant "executive details" that would in large part be governed by subordinates.

Hamilton's theory and practice encouraged independence among executive subordinates rather than servile and partisan complicity. This stemmed in part from the fact that all federal officials swore an oath to uphold the constitutional system rather than to follow one branch or another exclusively. It also stemmed from the belief that substantial powers in these offices would interest the occupants' nobler passions for honor and fame in the eyes of posterity. In Hamilton's day, many regarded an honorable reputation and the high regard of subsequent generations as vital to a meaningful and successful life. Hamilton's theory, therefore, combined a balance of carefully arranged institutional inducements and internal motivations in an attempt to bring out the best in public officials. Without such an attempt no powers could be safely entrusted to the government for long. Hamilton refused to accept that cynical conclusion as inevitable.

Energy in the executive completed Hamilton's plan for a stable and competent government-one that could inspire public confidence. Under George Washington's aegis, his measures helped the new national government win unparalleled public confidence. Without that success it is unlikely that the new American constitutional system would have survived at all.

Many fragments of Hamilton's administrative theory survive to the current day in United States, Canadian, and European administrative practice. It is interesting that such English reformers as Jeremy Bentham borrowed heavily from Hamilton's theory (especially regarding executive energy) in the early nineteenth century, while American politicians largely abandoned it. Ironically, American progressive reformers would subsequently borrow from the English reforms.

Hamilton's theory, as a coherent whole, has been largely forgotten in the twentieth century. Though vestiges survive in practice, those who practice them are usually unaware of their origins.

Twentieth-century American administrative theory has grown principally from two other sources: the management and behavioral sciences and the theory of overhead democracy. Both were given strong impetus in the Progressive Reform era. Progressive reformers, such as Woodrow Wilson and Frank Goodnow, employed the idea of a neutral, technically trained cadre of administrative experts responding to the will of the people through elected politicians as a persuasive alternative to the corrupt party patronage system that had arisen during the nineteenth century.

The idea of neutrally responsive bureaucrats has taken root in administrative practice ever since, despite some glaring problems. One such problem lies in the fact that administrative expertise quickly becomes a formidable political power in its own right. Neutral responsiveness invokes the image of experts working according to the dictates of scientific knowledge employed for democratic purposes. This can easily pervert, on one hand, into a selfserving professional-technical agenda because many experts in fact enjoy tremendous discretion and, therefore, political power.

On the other hand, it can also lead some experts to obey mindlessly the dictates of elected politicians whose agendas may run contrary to law and public interest. Blind professional obedience constitutes tremendous and dangerously unaccountable power as well. Experience has shown that both problems persist today. In short, neutral competence and democratic responsiveness have provided an insecure foundation for the subordinate public administration. The public administration's status continually troubles citizens of the United States.

In this light, Hamilton's theory deserves renewed attention (as do other founders' administrative theories) because it provides a constitutionally sensible and accountable role for the subordinate public administration. The public administration should buttress and represent the competencies of all three superior branches in the administration of public affairs. In this capacity, it must be autonomous, even though it is subordinate and jealously checked. The responsibilities of the public administration are therefore highly political, though not usually partisan in character. Instead, at times party agendas may be thwarted in favor of broader public interests. When public administration is managed accordingly, it emulates the highest standards set by Hamilton two hundred years ago and raises the possibility of a restored public confidence in government.

RICHARD T. GREEN


BIBLIOGRAHY

Works on Hamilton. Many fine works on Hamilton exist. The following heavily influenced this entry and are recommended for further reading:

Caldwell, Lynton K., 1964. The Administrative Theories of Hamilton and Jefferson: Their Contribution to Thought on Public Administration. New York: Russell & Russell.

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International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2
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