Administrative state is not only characterized by the large number of public agencies and public employees alone but also goes beyond the number of agencies, employees, or money spent. What is more important in the phenomenon of administrative state is the extent to which public agencies exercise governmental power over the political, economic, and social life of the nation.
In this paper, the development of administrative state in the U.S. will be examined through taking into account the roots of public administration development, the patterns in the history of reform, major trends affecting reform efforts and comparison of reform efforts in terms of American exceptionalism.
The growth of public administration in the U.S. has been affected by the desire to achieve efficient management, to promote various political goals and economic goals, and at the same time to protect the rights of private parties. The political origins of development of public administration in the U.S. mainly consist of desire to promote domestic tranquility; desire to provide for defense; and desire to promote economic development and social well-being through governmental actions recognizing the needs of various sectors in the economy. On the other hand, the legal origins of development of public administration consist of desire to provide for law and order through the creation of and enforcement of criminal and civil codes of law.
From this perspective, administrative state has been justified as needed, because as societies becomes more complex, governments need to strengthen their regulatory activities in order to secure law and order, to provide political and economic stability for corporations, to protect the interests of society against corporations, and to prevent political chaos through mediation between corporations and society. For example, in the U.S. regulatory activities enhanced to regulate economic monopolies (the Sherman Act, 1887-1890), to regulate quality of the products (the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, 1906-1915), to regulate cosmetics, utilities, securities, airlines, radio broadcasting etc. (1930s), and to regulate environmental concerns, workplace safety issues, and employment of racial and ethnic minorities, and women (1960s).
Governmental regulatory activities are sometimes criticized as a threat to liberty. However, it is agreed that harmful economic practices such as unhealthy products and industrial pollution to the environment can be best controlled by governmental intervention. Also, regulations such as minimum wage, minimum hours, child labor, and equal employment opportunity are not arbitrary, instead they are necessary.
The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries brought a reform movement, called as Progressive Reform Movement, in order to solve the problems created by rapid industrialization and urbanization. This reform movement expanded the administrative state as a response to corrupt and inefficient business practices.
In the Progressive Reform Era, government was seen as a solution for negative externalities. Politicians created and expanded the powers of public agencies in order to protect citizens from market failures and to facilitate the growth and prosperity of various industries such as financial securities, transportation, and energy sectors. Professions including public administration, civil engineering, and social work were promoted. At the federal level, lots of regulatory mandates including the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act were passed and new agencies were created to administer these regulations. At the state and local level, mandates were also expanded and lots of mandates including health and safety, recreation, and sanitation were passed. In this era, the principles such as corporate planning, corporate structuring, and the administrative orthodoxy (hierarchy, division of labor, and rules and regulations) were accepted in order to maintain positive state philosophy. Also, public agencies were organized on Weberian principles in order to pursue public interests. Centralizing power in Washington agencies and strong executives were seen as virtues.
Additionally, disparate coalition, bureau men, settlement women and associationalism were accepted as some of the characteristic of this era. Bureau men can be defined as male dominated bureaus which were charged the goal of social and governmental reform, focused on objective and procedural efficiency in administration, set out to make efficiency in government a top priority, and focused on bringing science and business practices to government. Settlement women can be defined as settlement houses which were operated and occupied predominantly by women in order to achieve the goals of social reform and improvement through different means. Associationalism can be defined as organizations from different economic sectors which were cooperated with each other in order to enhance efficiency.
Expansion of administrative state as an answer to market failures continued until 1970s. For example, same values were also accepted in the New Deal Era, period from 1932 to 1944.The Great Society was launched in 1960s and new social regulation was added to administrative state by President Nixon in 1970s. New social regulation such as environmental protection, employee health and safety, and consumer protection expanded administrative state further. This is because, during that time, new public agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were founded in order to implement these regulations.
The period (1900s-1970s) including the Progressive Era, New Deal Era, and Great Society was dominated by the positive state philosophy. The common characteristics of this philosophy can be listed as follows: (i) Government was the solution to market failures, (ii) Congress enacted broad, ambiguous, and contradictory statutes, (iii) Congress delegated authority to functionally based and/or clientele-based agencies (iv) Agencies were staffed by professionals/experts to interpret and implement broad, ambiguous, and contradictory laws, (v) Congress held agencies accountable with hierarchical process controls, (vi) More bureaucracy, more astutely applied with more congressional, presidential, and judicial oversight were considered as a solution if the exercise of discretion was seen as a problem.
On the other hand, after mid-1970s, as a result of some social, economic and technological transformations, administrative state started to be seen as a problem while markets started to be seen as the solution to government failures. With the New Public Management Movement, public agencies were seen as monopoly providers of services, centralization, permanence and rigidity were considered as problems. For this reason, competition, decentralization of responsibility and authority, just-in-time workforce and deregulation were seen as solutions for these problems.
During that time, elected leaders encountered with the challenges of cutting taxes without increasing the size of government. Therefore, President Reagan and President Clinton downsized federal agencies; devolve responsibilities to states, localities, and private sector; decentralized authority; debureaucratized; marketized; deregulated; and depoliticized agencies. As a result of these transformations, people in the agencies became responsible for arranging, coordinating, and monitoring networks of public, private, and nonprofit organizations that pursued public actions. Complex and nonhierarchical networks performed with expanding discretion. The authority to exercise policy discretion on behalf of society transferred to institutions in the private and civic spheres.
This trend accelerated further after 1990s in the U.S. with the effects of the proponents of minimal state philosophy which pushed a neo-managerialist theory of administration. During that time, there was a Republican majority in the U.S. Congress. It is known that Republicans hold a less positive view than Democratic Party about expanding the administrative state. For this reason, President Clinton promoted the new public governance agenda of the National Performance Review to create priority-based, customer-focused, information-driven, results-driven, and learning organization. After 1994 President Clinton followed a strategy which constituted the political logic of the Reinventing Government Movement. He protected programs dear to the hearts of Democratic constituencies, increased presidential control over federal agencies, preempted Republicans on “size”of government issue, captured Perot voters from 1992 election for the 1996 election, triangulated on policy issues, changed debate from one of “What should government do?” to “How can what we have be made to work better, cheaper, smarter?”, and preserved federal public union support.
In the Reinventing Government Movement, neither markets nor government alone are found sufficient for meeting today’s policy problems. According to this movement, public agencies need to have a new role through developing an operating style bassed on entrepeneurial management (like strategic planning, activity-based cost accounting, and total quality management) and treating government agencies as if they are businesses. This “new” role for government means reinventing its structures, processes, and size.
When we look at the pattern in the history of reform, we see that firstly reform was based on only government, secondly, reform was based on only market, and lastly reform was based on both government and market. At first, government was seen the only solution for market failures. After that, market was seen the only solution for government failures. Eventually, it was understood that neither government nor market alone are sufficient for meeting today’s policy problems. Therefore, a third way agenda has been implemented.
This situation can be explained through Paul Light’s “tides of reform” metaphor. According to this metaphor, there are four tides which consist of different values and reflect different public administration approaches like managerial, political and legal. The differences in the reforms are derived from which competing values such as individualism, efficiency, equality, responsiveness, and accountability are emphasized and which ones are deemphasized. The first tide, scientific management, emphasizes tight chains of command and strong presidential leadership. The second tide, war on waste, emphasizes coordinated retrenchment, auditing and investigating. The third war, watchful eye, emphasizes the freedom of information and open meetings. The last tide, liberation management, emphasizes freeing agencies and their employees from oppressive rules and oversight.
When we take into account Paul Light’s metaphor, we can say that 1939 Reorganization Act is close to scientific management, 1964 Freedom of Information Act is close to watchful eye, 1978 Inspector General Act is close to war on waste, and 1994 Reinventing Government Package is close to liberation management. To sum up, it is clear that scientific management was dominant until 1960s while the war on waste, watchful eye, and liberation management were dominant since then.
As it is mentioned above, before mid-1970s there was a reform agenda which saw government regulation as a solution to market failures whereas after mid-1970s, there was a reform agenda which was the antithesis of the previous reform agenda. There are some major trends which explain this change in the development of administrative state in the U.S. These major trends which have an effect on reform efforts can be classified into following headings: changes in people, changes in technology, changes in place and changes in philosophy.
Changes in people or changes in socio-demographic characteristics of nations have an influence over public administration. One of the most significant trends in this area is the continuation of aging population, in other words, growth in the number of elderly people and decline in the number of young people. This trend has put extra pressures on the retirement and medical systems. The public administrators working in these fields have encountered with extra burdens due to more costly medical care and the maturation of pension liabilities. Also, public administrators have faced with some constraints about the distribution of their resources because aging population has a potential to divert resources from the pursuit of other public purposes. Therefore, changes in people are constraints on public administrators thereby, can be considered as one of the factors that has led the neo-administrative state.
Changes in both physical technology and social technology can be taken into account as another factor which has affected the development of the administrative state in U.S. Information and telecommunications revolutions have increased demands for government redress while they have eroded the ability of the administrative state to respond effectively. First, technologically driven trend has made possible the deregulation of financial markets. Second, technology driven changes have put deflationary pressure on prices. Third, information technology and global transportation systems have produced specialty markets dominated by one or two top firms. Because of these effects, downward pressure on public spending and public taxing have occurred, focus on efficiencies have increased, and D3 agenda (downsizing, defunding, and devolution) have propelled.
Another factor which has an influence over public administration is changes in place. Changes in place or population movements can be considered as the most important factor that affected the development of administrative state during the first half of the 20th century. However, this factor still continues to have an effect on public administrators especially in the form of workplace composition, business location, and tax mobility. In this context, population migration remains a major source of demands upon government for action. Migration has brought service delivery, regulatory, and income redistributive challenges, choices and opportunities for public administrators. Government agencies and state legislatures have begun to reflect the diversity in ethnicity, gender, sexual preferences etc.
The last important factor which affected the development of administrative state is changes in philosophy. In this context, the rise of interest group conservativism or return to values in American exceptionalism can be taken into account.
Liberty, egalitarianism based on individual rather than group responsibility, individualism, populism, laissez-faire market orientation, faith in rationality, optimism, pragmatism, faith in technology, and affinity toward local rather than national political institutions are the most notable values which are associated with American exceptionalism. Also, commercial and interest-ridden attitudes can be considered as American exceptionalist values.
When American exceptionalist values are taken into account, it is clear that progressive reform movement, which considers the expansion of the administrative state as a solution, promotes the values which are inconsistent with American exceptionalism. For example, this movement fosters equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunities as in American exceptionalism. Also, this movement is criticized by some scholars as violating citizens’ sense of fairness by creating entitlements without obligations. However, in American exceptionalism, the fairness through reciprocity is promoted. Moreover, according to this movement, centralization of power in Washington agencies is seen as virtue whereas American exceptionalism promotes affinity toward local. Furthermore, progressive reform movement promotes strong executives for this reason; the public administration’s role seems more close to Hamiltonian tradition which seeks an effective government, that promotes top-down government, and that favors a strong executive. However, the public administration’s role defined in Madisonian tradition is more consistent with American exceptionalism.
On the other hand, market based administrative reforms are consistent with the cultural history of U.S.. That is to say, instead of expanding administrative state, liberalism is more consistent with American exceptionalism. This is because; minimal-statism and faith in markets are one of most important values in American exceptionalism. According to this perspective, market solutions and tools are appreciated and governmental solutions are perceived as vital only in national security concerns (e.g. World War I) and crises (e.g. Great Depression in 1930). Therefore, reinventing government movement and new public management movement are consistent with American exceptionalism whereas progressive reform movement is incongruent with American exceptionalism.
Reinventing government movement and the new public management movement are premised on values which are congruent with American exceptionalism. For example, these reform efforts promote the virtues of decentralizing power to states, localities, frontline workers, contractors, and nonprofit organizations. Also, D3 agenda (downsizing, defunding, and devolution) promotes the values consistent with those of American exceptionalism. Additionally, as a result of these reform movements, the public administration has been defined as a catalyst, arranger and monitor while providing goods, services, and opportunities to citizens. Therefore, the public administration’s role is consistent with American exceptionalist values such as community, decentralization, and self-help. Moreover, public administration that informs the conditions under which various service delivery and regulatory options are more likely to be effective is consistent with pragmatism value of American exceptionalism. Furthermore, the reliance on third party actors such as state and local governments, private sector and nonprofit actors is also consistent with the American exceptionalist values related to the fears of concentration on power in Washington.
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