Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Comparing the Reinventing Government Movement with the New Public Administration

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Comparing the Reinventing Government Movement with the New Public Administration

Article excerpt

No movement associated with the administrative aspects of modern American government has had the visibility of reinventing government. The phrase reinventing government has entered the lexicon of government, and the constellation of ideas associated with it appears to have been extensively influential in the practices of government management at all levels (Osborne and Gaebler, 1992; Report of the National Performance Review, 1993). Only time will tell if the reinventing movement will be the revolution its advocates seek and will have the staying power of the progressive reform movement of the turn of the century, out of which much of modern public administration emerged, or the positive government era of the 1940s and 1950s, which shaped the character of the modern field.

American public administration is alive with debates, arguments, and discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of the reinventing government paradigm (Kettl, 1994; DiIulio, Garvey, and Kettl, 1993; Goodsell, 1993; Moe, 1993; Rosenbloom, 1994; Carroll, 1995; Nathan, 1995). Because this is not the first attempted revolution in the field, it is useful to compare it with earlier movements. Here I compare the new public administration that started in the late 1960s and has a continuing literature (Marini, 1971; Frederickson, 1980; Waldo, 1971; Frederickson and Chandler, 1989) to the reinventing government movement of the early 1990s.(1)

I compare new public administration with reinventing government along six dimensions of public administration: concepts of change; concepts of relevance and empowerment; theories of rationality; organizational structure and design; theories of management and leadership; and epistemology, methodology, and the issue of values.

Concepts of Change

The need for change is the dominant theme in both the new public administration and in the reinventing government movement. Because both movements were in some sense revolutionary, it is axiomatic that the adherents to the movements were disappointed with the status quo and called for change. In some respects, members of the two movements were disappointed with the same things and were (are) seeking the same changes (Table 1).

The new public administration developed a comparatively sophisticated concept of change, in part because change was the gear driving the other gears of the argument. The concept of change and other concepts were set out in three-column tables with the headings "From," "Transition," and "To." The new public administration attempted to describe the then-current (say 1968) state of affairs under "From"; the desired objective under "To," and the transition between the two. These three-column tables were applied to many concepts of public administration, such as rationality, organization structure, management, and so forth. One new public administration conception of change is presented in Table 2.

Obviously, the new public administration conception of change was rather process oriented, involving changeable or malleable organizational forms, developing criteria by which to judge effectiveness, institutionalizing change processes, emphasizing decrements as much as increments, and identifying change facilitation as the primary responsibility of leadership. The new public administration also was skeptical about technology as a solution to organizational or policy problems; indeed, it was argued that technology was more often the cause of government problems than the solution.

A key point in the new public administrations conception of change was based on systems logic. Public organizations are embedded in a dynamic social/political ecology. Organizations tend to stability, as most bureaucratic models would verify, whereas the context of the organization is very dynamic. By definition, [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] then, there are problems, through time, in reconciling organizational statics and social/political dynamics. …

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