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The Arab Spring has created opportunities for countries across North Africa and the Middle East to redesign their constitutions. There are ongoing debates on whether these countries will adopt the Anglo-American model or look at other paradigms. Political leaders and scholars have turned to a number of academic fields such cultural studies, sociology, economics, and political science in attempt to answers some of these questions. However, no other field of study will provide more insight into the development of these new government structures than comparative public administration (CPA).
Simply put, it is the study of comparing two or more public administrations by using multiple disciplines.
This definition, however, does not sufficiently describe the complexity of this field or its contributions to other academic areas, government employees, and country leaders. Perhaps the area in which CPA provides the most aid is in its cross-national analysis. Through this research, countries are able to learn from one another. CPA is not limited to cross-national comparison though as it evaluates different administrative processes and systems within countries.
To fully appreciate CPA, however, it is necessary to understand how politics factors into it, its progression over the years, and its analysis towards delineating future challenges to public administration.
The study of comparative public administration challenges the notion that public administration and politics are separate entities. Specifically, it has recognized that bureaucrats, pressure groups, and elected officials are all political actors in the policymaking process. In Germany, for example, politics influence policy formation because the law requires public agencies to consult with interest groups before making legislation and regulations.
In other countries like the United States, public administrators and pressure groups engage in clientela politics which are mutually dependent relationships. Agencies rely on interest groups not only to shape policies but also for their survival. The interest groups lobby politicians and gain public support in order to help the agencies compete for government resources. At the same time, pressure groups benefit by gaining access to the decision-making process where they are able to represent their interests (Peters, 2010, p. 182). Nations with a single dominant party, in contrast, use politics to develop parantela relationships.
The Chinese Communist party, for example, works with the bureaucrats on behalf of the interest groups, thereby ensuring policies decisions do not steer away from the party’s ideology. CPA also researches politics between public administration and other formal institutions, and it investigates the political strategies each side uses to assert their power and control over policies and budgets. The bureaucrats, for example, have technical knowledge and information which they use to their advantage. In Norway, civil servants collect and analyze vast amounts of data to develop complex plans and budgets which politicians do not have skills or the time to understand. The overwhelmed political leaders have little choice but to accept the administration’s plans. Another useful device that civil servants use in Japan and France are advisory bodies. Although these advisory boards are attached to the ministries, the members are usually civil servants or interest group associates connected to the government agencies. Thus, the bureaucrats determine many of the final outcomes of policies (Peters, 2010, p. 219).
Nevertheless, political institutions have their own devices to counter the bureaucrats. Political leaders create their own specialized institutions and counterstaffs to gain independent sources of information. The president of United States has the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to monitor public expenditures while the Congressional Budget Office oversees the national budget on the legislative side (Peters, 2010, p. 220-221). Executive leaders also hire their own experts such as the Executive Office of the United States and the Office of the Chancellor in Germany. Since civil servants’ positions are permanent, elected officials exert their policy goals through political appointees as in the United States, Belgium, and France. In Germany, however, the minister may directly replace the senior civil servants with their own personnel (Peters, 2010, p. 226).
Traditionally, the field of comparative public administration focused on “public administration” aspects such as the bureaucratic structures and systems. In recent years, academics have shifted to the theme of “public management” where CPA identifies best practices to enhance the performance of bureaucracy. The theory of “New Public Management” (NPM) emphasizes generic management and market-based principles. It favors loosening bureaucratic rules to allow more creativity and flexibility, thereby “letting the managers manage” (Peters, 2010, p. 329). Moreover, NPM encourages competition by privatizing government services.
An alternative approach to NPM is the participatory concept of governing. The participatory model streamlines the hierarchy found in traditional administrative system by empowering the lower echelons of civil servants (Peters, 2010, p. 334). Government workers become more productive through involvement in policy decisions (Peters, 2010). Other managerial reforms have included performances measures on the managers themselves and on the organization as a whole. This new tactic focuses on “making managers manage” (Peters, 2010, p. 335).
Since employment is typically permanent in most agencies, leaders recognize that this status have made some civil servants comfortable and unmotivated in their jobs. CPA evaluates different methods to measure employee performances and explores different strategies to encourage them to work, including a variety of rewards and punishments (Peters, 2010, p. 336). Organizational performance reviews are challenging since there are many factors outside the agencies control that impact its successes. CPA aids in this process by identifying the indicators of poor performances in organizations, while also taking into consideration the external influences (Peters, 2010, p.341).
The study of CPA emphasizes a comparative approach to identify new challenges that public administration will face in the 21st century. One such challenge will be the issue of accountability. As mentioned above, many countries have transferred public services to the private sector. However in their attempts to increase efficiency, they have lost accountability. Transparency and ethical standards are no longer guaranteed. In order to solve this dilemma, a restoration of some form of government control is necessary. The challenge will be to find new models that balance efficiency and accountability (Peters, 2010).
Yet, the biggest challenge will be finding long-term economic solutions in the face of demographic changes. In many societies, the over-65 population is increasing more than twice as fast as the overall population (Peters, 2010, p.8). Unless policy changes are made, this demographic shift will create unsustainable public expenses leading to budgetary deficits which could compromise pension programs and health care systems. By comparing public policies, governments can analyze policy options and understand the implications of their choices. Some countries have already changed their pension plans by increasing the age of eligibility for retirement; however, they may soon have to make difficult decisions regarding austerity measures such as benefit cuts.
It is important to understand that CPA does more than recognizing similarities and differences. CPA provides descriptive analysis and theories that help advance government institutions, improve government performance, and expand policy options. Before CPA can achieve its purpose, politics must be recognized as an influential factor in the research. In every aspect, politics is involved in the governmental decision making processes, especially policymaking. CPA research explores alternative strategies to improve public management and helps anticipate future challenges. As new regimes are formed, the field of CPA will be a valuable source of information to aid leaders in the process of nation-building. In return, existing CPA theories will likely be changed and new theories emerge through the research of the new governments in the Middle East and other parts of the world.
Peters, B. G. (2010). The Politics of Bureaucracy: An Introduction to Comparative Public
Administration (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
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