Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The New Public Service: Serving Rather Than Steering

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The New Public Service: Serving Rather Than Steering

Article excerpt

Public management has undergone a revolution. Rather than focusing on controlling bureaucracies and delivering services, public administrators are responding to admonishments to "steer rather than row," and to be the entrepreneurs of a new, leaner, and increasingly privatized government. As a result, a number of highly positive changes have been implemented in the public sector (Osborne and Gaebler 1992; Osborne and Plastrik 1997; Kettl 1993; Kettl and DiIulio 1995; Kettl and Milward 1996; Lynn 1996). But as the field of public administration has increasingly abandoned the idea of rowing and has accepted responsibility for steering, has it simply traded one "adminicentric" view for another? Osborne and Gaebler write, "those who steer the boat have far more power over its destination than those who row it" (1992, 32). If that is the case, the shift from rowing to steering not only may have left administrators in charge of the boat--choosing its goals and directions and charting a path to achieve them--it may have given them more power to do so.

In our rush to steer, are we forgetting who owns the boat? In their recent book, Government Is Us (1998), King and Stivers remind us of the obvious answer: The government belongs to its citizens (see also Box 1998; Cooper 1991; King, Feltey, and O'Neill 1998; Stivers 1994a,b; Thomas 1995). Accordingly, public administrators should focus on their responsibility to serve and empower citizens as they manage public organizations and implement public policy. In other words, with citizens at the forefront, the emphasis should not be placed on either steering or rowing the governmental boat, but rather on building public institutions marked by integrity and responsiveness.

Background

As it is used here, the "New Public Management" refers to a cluster of ideas and practices (including reinvention and neomanagerialism) that seek, at their core, to use private-sector and business approaches in the public sector. While there have long been calls to "run government like a business," the contemporary version of this debate in this country was sparked in the 1990s by President Clinton's and Vice President Gore's initiative to "make government work better and cost less." Modeled after concepts and ideas promoted in Osborne and Gaebler's 1992 book Reinventing Government (as well as managerialist efforts in a variety of other countries, especially Great Britain and New Zealand), the Clinton administration championed a variety of reforms and projects under the mantle of the National Performance Review. In part, what has distinguished these reforms and similar efforts at the state and local level, from older versions of the run-government-like-a-business movement is that they involve more than just using the techniques of business. Rather, the New Public Management has become a normative model, one signaling a profound shift in how we think about the role of public administrators, the nature of the profession, and how and why we do what we do.

Yet many scholars and practitioners have continued to express concerns about the New Public Management and the role for public managers this model suggests. For example, in a recent Public Administration Review symposium on leadership, democracy, and public management, a number of authors thoughtfully considered the opportunities and challenges presented by the New Public Management. Those challenging the New Public Management in the symposium and elsewhere ask questions about the inherent contradictions in the movement (Fox 1996), the values promoted by it (deLeon and Denhardt 2000; Frederickson 1996; Schachter 1997); the tensions between the emphasis on decentralization promoted in the market model and the need for coordination in the public sector (Peters and Savoie 1996); the implied roles and relationships of the executive and legislative branches (Carroll and Lynn 1996); and the implications of the privatization movement for democratic values and the public interest (McCabe and Vinzant 1999). …

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