International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

K

KAUFMAN,HERBERT ( 1922-). A significant figure in the field of public administration whose work helped chronicle how public organizations function. Kaufman's major contributions are in the areas of administrative management, organization theory and behavior, and state and local government. Yet, during his professional career, which has spanned five decades, Kaufman also has worked in numerous related areas such as comparative public administration (public administration in countries outside the United States).

A son of a lawyer, Kaufman studied political science at City College of New York in preparation for a career in law. However, he found the study of the legal system to be less engaging than the newly emerging field of public administration. He enrolled in Columbia University's Department of Public Law and Government and received a master's degree with a concentration in public administrative. After military service and an assignment as an administrative intern in the federal government's Bureau of the Budget, Kaufman returned to New York City and Columbia University to complete a Ph.D. These early experiences helped prepare the way for pursuing a broad line of inquiry about how public organizations work that would span more than 40 years and contribute significantly to the development of public administration as a field of study.

Kaufman helped advanced the understanding of public organizations through his analysis of two very different organizations; the U.S. Forest Service and the New York City government. His work was heavily influenced by the thinking of Herbert Simon as expressed in his classic book Administrative Behavior ( 1957). Following Simon, Kaufman focused on the decisionmaking processes of these organizations as a means to understand how they operated.

In the case of the Forest Service, Kaufman described how that highly respected and geographically decentralized agency was able to maintain uniformity and quality control over its large workforce through careful selection and socialization of personnel. He found the homogeneity of the managers in terms of background, education, values, and sense of mission to be striking. This resulted in a condition he called "voluntary conformity." Kaufman noted that while such an approach and organizational culture produced uniform results, it also could result in organizational rigidity and an inability to change. In fact, the 1980s and 1990s have seen the Forest Service come under fierce attack for its slowness in changing.

In studying the New York City government, Kaufman again focused on who made the decisions and how they were made. Influenced by an earlier study of Atlanta by Floyd Hunter, he tested the hypothesis that a small elite core controlled decisionmaking in New York City. This was not at all what he found. In fact, Kaufman painted a picture much the opposite; multiple parties with divergent values and interests working independently in many different policy spheres. This first comprehensive study of New York City concluded with a recommendation to retain the strong mayor form of city government and to reject calls for a change to a city manager format. Managing New York City's many diverse interests remains a major challenge today, and the strong mayor form of government remains.

Although different characteristics were observed in the Forest Service and in the New York City government, Kaufman argued that they both were vulnerable in a changing environment because they both lacked the capacity to change course effectively. The Forest Service was blocked by its uniformity and resulting rigidity while the New York City government was immobilized by its many fragmented parts. This finding helped turn Kaufman's work, and in part the field of organization theory, from an orientation of internal focus to one of an external orientation.

Kaufman's work continued with projects that examined the effects various influences had on organizations. For example, in one project he studied the impact of federal government bureau chiefs. In another he analyzed the "red tape" often associated with government organizations. These and other projects helped Kaufman better describe the significant limits to change that exist in public organizations.

Most recently, Kaufman has explored organizations through a conceptual lens of organizational ecology, which basically says that organizations are like living organisms in a physical environment. Concepts such as organizational survival, adaptation, death, and extinction are explored in their application to public organizations. Kaufman concludes that organizational survival is more a matter of luck than skill. This and other findings by Kaufman have been challenged by other organization theorists and behavior researchers.

Kaufman's efforts not only helped shape the intellectual landscape of public administration and organization theory but also established him as a key figure in the public administration community. Working with luminaries such as Wallace Sayre and Luther Gulick and associating with prominent institutions such as the Brookings Institution, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Yale University Department of Political Science (from where he retired), Kaufman helped contribute both to the intellectual underpinning and institutional capacity that supported the growing field of public administration.

TERENCE J. TIPPLE

-1239-

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International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editorial Board *
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  • D 627
  • Bibliography 627
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