Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public Administration-The State of the Discipline II: A Symposium: Shortfalls of Public Administration as Empirical Science

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Public Administration-The State of the Discipline II: A Symposium: Shortfalls of Public Administration as Empirical Science

Article excerpt


The present message is direct: despite real areas of progress, today's Public Administration has significant limitations as empirical science. Indeed, the situation may be worse than it was decades ago because we know more about what needs doing, and because the need for the doing has increased dramatically. Five emphases support this compound conclusion about contemporary Public Administration: 1) operational definition gets inadequate attention; 2) the science of applied research has burgeoned and the end is nowhere in sight, but PA progress lags behind; 3) theoretical developments concerning change imply new and less-tractable challenges; 4) several types of theory need distinguishing, but often fail to be accorded that attention; and 5) the growing popularity of several forms of "social constructionism" exacerbates the challenges of the preceding four points.


My concern with telling it like it seems to me always has been a double-edged sword.1 That fixation certainly simplifies my life, and it has served me well in various consulting and research activities. But committing truth, as I see it, has its down-sides, and especially in being persistent (even insistent) about that orientation.

Nonetheless, here I go again, and not very long after having "committed truth" in extended form concerning a possibly apocalyptical view of the discipline (e.g., Golembiewski, 1996). At a minimum, consequently, I risk being seen as a common scold, and perhaps especially if the scolding is correct. That is, this combination leaves one open to a challenge, or even a taunt: If you are so certain, and especially if you have truth on your side, how come you cannot convince the bulk of your target-group?

Here, that taunt notwithstanding, I remain consistent unto, and perhaps even beyond, repetition. Directly, I propose again, post-2000 Public Administration needs a vital empirical core, and there is too little satisfying progress on that front. This may seem old news: I wrote much the same message over 30 years ago (e.g., Golembiewski, 1962a, 1962b). But that message retains its currency and, indeed, today things may be said to be worse. That is to say, several new urgencies have emerged recently, and they constitute not only valid but consequential claims on the time and resources of public administrationists. So PA's shortfall may be seen as having increased in a critical sense.

Relatively, also, the satisfying recent developments in today's PA--the centrality of law and the Constitution in public management (e.g., Rosenbloom, 1983), or the "new institutionalism" (Moe, 1990, 1991)--accentuate the slow pace of progress in PA as empirical theory.

Hence, this essay has dual burdens. It reemphasizes the oldtimey medicine required as a tonic for a vigorous emphasis on empirical research in Public Administration. Later, this essay proposes four additional competitors for the resources and skills of public administrationists--several essentially new or novel, a few being old frameworks arrayed in glittering raiment, but with all implying a substantial rationale for getting a goodly share of available PA resources.

Let me position this essay a bit more precisely--far beyond mere trashing and yet substantially short of a credible ideal. Existing theory and experience permit meeting substantial challenges such as helping build a mass urban transit, on time and dollar schedules (Golembiewski and Kiepper, 1988); but that theory and experience still have major lacunae that challenge the best in public administrationists (e.g., Golembiewski and Kiepper, 1988:124-144). Hence this article intends to see further, but can do so only because it starts with a solid foundation of practice and study. We can do no better than to rely on Blaise Pascal's comparison compared to the ideal, our accomplishments are seriously lacking but compared to groundzero we are very far along. …

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