The term “public administration” refers to all activities undertaken by public agencies, whether internal or external. It is the responsibility of the on-site managers, who are generally free to organize their agencies’ work in ways that will facilitate the achievement of their goals. As a result, the various state and federal organizations that have emerged in the United States over time have developed a broad range of practices and approaches to public administration. With that said, it was eventually also shown that safeguards have to be put in place for government agencies to avoid overreaching while also operating effectively. Otherwise, they may act unethically and not in the people’s interest without being accountable to anyone, which contradicts the purpose of the government. To that end, the body known as administrative law has emerged, creating standardized requirements and accountability mechanisms.
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Administrative law is an accumulation of different pieces of legislation that have accumulated over time. As Miller and Rabin (2018) state, it involves statutes, constitutional law, court decisions, executive orders, and other measures related to administrative process standards. As can be seen from this list, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government are all involved in the creation of administrative law. Each has the potential to intervene in agency operations via specific mechanisms, setting strategic and tactical directions, permitted practices, and conducting evaluations to review agency operations. With that said, Metzger (2015) claims that the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, which sets out basic procedural requirements for agencies, is foundational to the structure as a whole. It enables different organizations to cooperate with minimal friction, as they are all structurally based on the same framework.
The purpose of administrative law is to introduce constraints that ensure that public agencies focus on the public good while staying within certain boundaries. It ensures that agencies do not abuse their power and emphasize self-interest over their stated purpose (Hyde & Shafrtiz, 2016). As such, the law also facilitates trust and cooperation between the population and the government by ensuring that the former is protected. Per Rosenbloom (2018), in the United States, administrative law introduces “democratic-constitutional values, including stakeholder representation, participation, transparency, fairness, accountability, and limited government intrusion on private activity.” Overall, government agencies could operate even if administrative law was not in place, possibly more efficiently than they do now due to the lack of bureaucratic control. However, they may have had difficulty cooperating and adopted non-accountable, unfair, and intrusive practices over time, hurting the citizens of the nation.
In its effort to prevent misconduct, the law has evolved to control most aspects of agency operations to varying degrees, possibly excessively so in some cases. They are now subject to substantial degrees of scrutiny and control from various parts of the government, most notably the courts. O’Leary et al. (2017) suggest that the constraints are severe enough that many public agencies devote substantial time to managing legal processes before they can implement changes and initiatives. Metzger (2015) adds that the emergence and popularization of new administrative practices typically lead to the emergence of law constraining them shortly after. As such, administrative legislation continuously evolves along with administration, aiming to prevent the emergence of any loopholes that unethical public administrators may use to facilitate operations at the expense of the public.
The focus of administrative law on preventing misconduct in all aspects of agency operations leads it to spread itself thin. As Miller and Rabin (2018) indicate, its need to encompass many distinct entities and concepts within the same framework leads to a vague overall structure with weak boundaries. As a result, public administrators struggle to obtain an understanding of the law that governs them due to both complexity and unclear implications. This issue will either paralyze their operations as they try to understand whether any initiative will violate the law or lead them to move ahead without extensive checking, requiring auditors to recognize and highlight the issue. Courts, on the other hand, tend to concern themselves with external agency activities and ignore vital practices such as planning, budgeting, or personnel practices (Metzger, 2015). As a result, despite placing a bureaucratic burden on public organizations, the law does not necessarily achieve its goal.
The purpose of administrative law is to standardize operations and prevent misconduct on the part of public administrators. To that end, it creates a set of shared standards and introduces values that promote the public interest over the self-interest of the agency. Moreover, it subjects government organizations to extensive overview by the courts, enabling them to discern and stop misconduct. With that said, while the law introduces numerous restrictions on public administrators and complicates agency operations, it also appears not to be enforced on internal agency operations. As such, it is often disconnected from public administrations and fails to achieve its purposes. Additional measures should be taken to reconcile the two areas and create a legal framework that does not result in unnecessary constraints while instituting superior accountability measures.
Hyde, A. C., & Shafritz, J. M. (2016). Classics of public administration (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.
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Metzger, G. E. (2015). Administrative law, public administration, and the Administrative Conference of the United States. The George Washington Law Review, 83(4/5), 1517-1539.
Miller, G. J., & Rabin, J. (2018). Handbook of public administration (6th ed.). Taylor & Francis.
O’Leary, R., Chanin, J., & Rosenbloom, D. H. (2017). Public administration and law (3rd ed.). Taylor & Francis.
Rosenbloom, D. H. (2018). Administrative law for public managers (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis.