Ronald D. Sylvia
San Jose State University
The management of a system whereby public agencies recruit, compensate, and discipline their employees. The system is normally characterized by a watchdog differentiation between the structures that perform personnel tasks and structures that protect employee rights and insulate the process from politics.
Wallace Sayre, an expert in public administration, is widely cited as the source of the comment: public and private management systems are fundamentally alike in all unimportant ways (Henry 1995). Public personnel administration is illustrative of this truism because agencies must seek to sustain the highest levels of professionalism in their operations and yet be responsive to the desires of the elected officials whom they serve. Furthermore, the U.S. business culture produces ongoing pressures for government to be more efficient and effective according to the management trends of a particular era. Finally, government agencies must be more responsive than their private sector counterparts in removing any barriers to equality of opportunity because, like the majority, minority citizens are entitled to reasonable access to positions in government. These three themes of balancing merit and accountability, efficiency, and equity have shaped public personnel administration in the United States.