Classical and New Public Administration Theories


American society is often regarded as an example of flourishing democratic values where all branches of power balance each other and where people’s interests are central. The efficacy of American public administration is one of the premises for this view. However, the system is starting to fail in some aspects. For instance, it is accepted that the public administration of the second part of the 20th century favored elites rather than the public (Fry & Raadschelders, 2013). However, the postmodern view of public administration is also characterized by certain flaws since it is characterized by a considerable degree of relativity. Many theorists and practitioners note that a new approach could help improve governance. Nevertheless, there is no need in developing a brand-new framework since the classical public administration theory can become the basis of the effective approach. The new approach to public administration should include the focus on professionalism, expertise, market-values orientation, and absence of political preferences but these features should be closely connected with modern values.

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Classical Public Administration Theory

The classical public administration theory was dominating in the first part of the 20th century. Woodrow Wilson and Max Weber are the most influential figures associated with this perspective (Holzer & Schwester, 2014). This theory is mainly linked to two major assumptions. Wilson believed that public administration was a version of the business world and had to be apolitical (Farmer, 2015). Thus, the supporters of this theory claimed that political views could not influence the way public administrators implemented the decisions made by the legislative branch. It was believed that any political bias would affect the implementation of policies. Furthermore, Wilson claimed that public administrators had to use managerial methods and tools utilized in business. Competitiveness, value-driven services, and similar aspects were regarded as factors contributing to the effective implementation of policies.

Criticism of the Theory

However, these two central assumptions were the most criticized concepts. Practitioners and researchers claim that public administration cannot be apolitical as people are influenced by certain political views and tend to understand and interpret laws based on their experience and political agenda (Holzer & Schwester, 2014). As to the belief that public administration is governed by the rules of the market, critics of the approach emphasize that the focus on market-based methods can lead to the focus on the interests of particular groups. Furthermore, it is stressed that the use of market-based tools contributes to the development of consumerism and individualism.

Other Approaches

The classical theory was replaced by the new public management theory and postmodern public administration theory. The new public management theory was also based on the assumption that public administration can benefit from the use of market-based tools (Kuhlmann & Wollmann, 2014). The proponents of this framework noted that the classical theory was outdated as public administrators provided a wide range of services while administrators of the first part of the 20th century were involved in a limited number of spheres (defense, healthcare, and the like) (Lynn, 2012). The theory equipped practitioners with various detailed frameworks to implement different policies and provide high-quality services to the public with a focus on certain groups of people. Competition and client-oriented services were characteristic features of public administration during the second part of the 20th century. Nonetheless, this theory is also associated with many inconsistencies and the focus on the interests of elites and corporations.

The postmodern approach was developed to address the existing gaps including the focus on market values. The primary goal was the public good, and public administrators were regarded as advocates of disadvantaged groups (Box, 2014). This theoretical perspective does not negate the main political or any other bias. On the contrary, it is accepted that the environment people live in has an impact on their decision making. Plurality and diversity are regarded as the significant components of the success of any system. Another distinctive feature of this framework is its focus on institutionalism. Individualism is no longer regarded as a norm. Structures, institutions, and departments are coming to the fore. Administrators do not pursue their interests (financial gain, promotion, and so on) but try to address the needs of different groups. However, diversity and relativism are some of the strengths and one of the weaknesses of the approach. Researchers and practitioners concentrate on the analysis of different perspectives, approaches, ideas, and often lack particular tools to implement a policy.

Efficient Framework

It is clear that the three frameworks address certain issues but fail to meet the needs of administrators and the public at the same time. The efficient public administration theory will be developed based on the classical approach. Moreover, the main characteristic feature (that is often seen as a downside) will be the central point of the new paradigm that will make public administration more effective. The separation of political preferences and public administrators’ activities and decisions will be the central concept. It is quite clear that people are influenced by the environment including some political agendas. People cannot be completely apolitical, as the way they see the reality is dependent on administrators’ backgrounds. However, this bias is not a weakness but rather a strength as administrators can address the needs of different groups of people.

As far as the use of market-based tools in public administration, it is also relevant in contemporary society. Such elements as the focus on customer needs, competitiveness, and gaining profit can help public administrators to implement policies effectively (Box, 2014). It has been acknowledged that public administrators take quite an active part in developing policies as they often advocate the needs of particular groups. The goal to meet customers’ needs is associated with the power of public administrators to shape some policies and make them more effective. Competitiveness is another characteristic feature of modern society and public administration. Public administrators provide different types of services in various spheres (Lynn, 2012). The number of public employees is also increasing, which leads to certain competitiveness. Public administrators have become motivated to perform better as it makes them more competitive.

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Finally, the major peculiarity of the business world, the focus on profit, can be beneficial for public administration under certain circumstances. First, it is possible to make public administrators motivated through the provision of bonuses and other types of financial rewards. More importantly, the organizational profit should be mainly regarded as improvements in society instead of some financial gains. The development of the proper organizational culture can make public administrators concentrate on making a difference and changing individuals, communities, and the entire society for the better. This goal can be difficult but possible to achieve. Extensive training and the introduction of some changes within the educational system may be necessary.


To make public administration more effective, it is essential to utilize a new theoretical paradigm that is deeply rooted in the classical public administration theory. The two major elements of the theory will be used to develop a new approach. Business-based tools and apolitical administrators will help the field to evolve. The use of the new framework will be associated with several steps.

Public administrators will not pertain to any political force but will mention their political preferences and cultural backgrounds when entering the field. This information will be helpful for human resources professionals who will ensure diversity and plurality of ideas. A new type of organizational culture should be developed. Public administrators should see the public good as their significant aim and organizational goal. Profitability will also be ensured through the introduction of benefits and financial rewards for public administrators.

Public administration has evolved considerably during the past 100-150 years. Researchers and practitioners have come up with various strategies, methods, and tools to implement policies. The changes that are taking place in society made some theoretical paradigms seem outdated. However, it is crucial to remember that the classical public administration theory is still relevant and applicable. American society will benefit from the use of a new public administration theory based on the principles of the classical approach.


Box, R. C. (2014). Public administration and society: Critical issues in American governance. New York, NY: Routledge.

Farmer, D. J (2015). Public administration in perspective: Theory and practice through multiple lenses. New York, NY: Routledge.

Fry, B., & Raadschelders, J. (2013). Mastering public administration. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press.

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Holzer, M., & Schwester, R. (2014). Public administration: An introduction. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kuhlmann, S., & Wollmann, H. (2014). Introduction to comparative public administration: Administrative systems and reforms in Europe. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Lynn, L. E. (2012). Public management. In B. G. Peters & J. Pierre (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of public administration (pp. 17-32). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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