Why does Stillman suggest that defining public administration has become difficult?
According to Stillman, public administration is hard to define because this field, having developed over the 20th century, appears almost all-encompassing, covering an enormous area of human activity, beginning with delivering mail and patching potholes and ending with creating and implementing the policies of the government and distributing the vast majority of the resources present in the society (1).
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The fact that this notion comprises so many constituent parts makes it virtually impossible to provide a definition that would cover each of the areas touched by this activity, as well as explain all the numerous, sometimes inconsistent, values involved in it. Attempts to unequivocally “define the core values and focus of… public administration” have failed, causing numerous debates and entirely different opinions on the topic (Stillman 1).
How have historians and the literature defined public administration? Do the views coincide with how public administration is viewed today?
Public administration has been defined in many various ways, ranging from “the production of goods and services designed to serve the needs of citizens-consumers” through “activities… involved in the establishment and implementation of public policies” to “cooperative effort of the individuals who make up the administration” (Stillman 2-4). The definitions are sometimes inconsistent; some of them incorporate all the three branches of government (executive, judicial, and legislative), others claim that only the executive branch should be included (Stillman 2-4).
These views partially constitute the contemporary perceptions of public administration. All of them cannot be adopted at the same time due to the mentioned inconsistencies; however, they provide a sketch of how to view public administration. Some of the views can still be reconciled; for instance, it is claimed that public administration is primarily related to the executive branch of government, at the same time being related to the other two (Stillman 4). Most of the elements of these definitions can be viewed as constituent parts of contemporary definitions, for it is apparent that no definition can grasp the field in question thoroughly.
Stillman in Chapter One, “The Blast in Centralia”
What reforms would you recommend to prevent the tragedy from reoccurring elsewhere? How could such reforms be implemented?
In our opinion, to prevent similar tragedies from occurring elsewhere, it is a good idea to introduce more severe responsibility for the authorities of the mine for a failure to comply with the safety regulations. It is necessary, though, to be able to enforce such a law; perhaps the regular checks by higher state authorities would be helpful. In any case, it is also paramount that the workers pay more attention to the safety standards; they should refuse to work in a mine where these standards are not met, and demand from the authorities to provide the necessary conditions.
To implement that, the workers should have some effective mechanisms to protect their rights if their workplace is unsafe. They should also be allowed to take days off work, and be compensated for these days off if the mine is dangerous (which fact should be confirmed by an independent party).
Based on your analysis of “The Blast in Centralia #5,” can you generalize about the importance of public administration for society? Can you list some of the pros and cons of having a strong and effective administrative system to perform essential services in society?
In our opinion, the public administration in the society should be able to create and maintain the situation in which it is relatively disadvantageous for an individual or a group of individuals to take actions that could be harmful to others (or even themselves), and relatively advantageous to take actions that would benefit the society. The advantages and disadvantages should be concrete and direct. In the case of Centralia #5, if it had been possible for workers to effectively complain to the authorities to achieve compliance with safety standards in the mine, they would not have neglected the problem themselves; it seems, though, they had no hope to make their workplace safe or find any other appropriate job.
If the administrative system in a society is strong and effective, then, according to this very description, it can effectively perform its functions, which is supposed to be beneficial for the society (pro). The problem is the absence of universally accepted views on what these functions should be. Therefore, it appears likely that a strong administration, despite its effectiveness, will infringe someone’s freedom in some ways (contra).
Stillman, Richard J. Public Administration: Concepts and Cases. 9th ed. 2010. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. Print.