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Public Management: Anthony Bertelli and Fred Riggs’ Views Essay

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Updated: Jun 27th, 2020

Finer’s and Friedrich’s Debate and Bertelli’s Position About the Sources of Responsibility for Public Managers

The famous debate concerning the sources of power within the public management sphere concerns, in fact, quite basic concepts, if approached from the perspectives suggested by Friedrich and Finer. To be more specific, the issue in question concerns the actual source of power, the existing alternatives presupposing the choice between the public administrator and the people, whom the latter represents.

According to Friedrich, the power of decision-making given to the public administrator (PA) must reside in the hands of the people, on behalf of whom the administrator in question operates. Friedrich reduces the role of a PA to the servant of the public, therefore, making it clear that a PA is not empowered for making decisions on their own. Finer, in his turn, states that the PA must be provided with the power to make decisions and exert power in the field that they administer (Bertelli, 2012). This concept is known as autonomous bureaucracy (Bertelli, 2012).

Bertelli, though admittedly acknowledging the significance of the arguments provided by both Friedrich and Finer, claims that both approached the issue from a rather shallow perspective (Bertelli, 2012). According to Bertelli, neither the concept of the servant of the public supported by Finer nor the idea of autonomous bureaucracy celebrated by Friedrich reflects the complexity of modern reality (Bertelli, 2012).

Concern About the “Hollow State” and too Large Public Sector

Despite the seeming contradiction between the concept of the “hollow state” (Bertelli 2012a) and the idea of public sector expanding beyond admissible boundaries, the two concepts are, in fact, quite compatible. Traditionally defined as the state with an established democratic system that the public administration is governed by (Bertelli 2012c), the specified phenomenon aligns with the principles of public sector expansion as long as the principles suggested by Friedrich (Bertelli, 2012b).

Indeed, by definition, the hollow state is referred to as “a government that as a matter of public policy has chosen to contract out all its production capability to third parties, perhaps retaining [responsibility] for negotiating, monitoring, and evaluating contracts” (Bertelli, 2012). Therefore, though allowing the state authorities to exercise impressive power, the specified phenomenon still promotes the strategic capacity building that is bound to have a major positive effect on the economic and financial status of individuals. Herein the significance of both concerns lie; they allow for balancing between the extremes suggested by Friedrich and Finer.

Usefulness of the “Fire Alarm Oversight“

Though the idea of introducing agencies that could observe and supervise the execution of power by the local authorities somewhat redundant, the phenomenon of “fire alarm oversight” (Bertelli, 2012, p. 168) allows for reducing the possibility of power abuse. According to Riggs, the phenomenon of fire alarm oversight helps control “extra-bureaucratic institutions” (Riggs, 1980, p. 113), which posed a major threat to the economy of not only the Third World but also several western countries at the time.

Therefore, the concept in question helps address the loopholes in the legislation system that allows for the bureaucracy to reach tremendous rates and halt the rest of the economic, political and financial processes within a certain region. The “fire alarm oversight,” though admittedly costly and taking an impressive amount of time to collect the information, process it and define the further course of actions to address the problem, still works as a viable solution to the issue of bureaucracy and power abuse. It should be noted that the Third World countries are less vulnerable to the concept in question due to the institutionalization of their PA processes (Riggs, 1980).

Warnings for Public Managers Facing a “Make-Or-Buy” Decision for Contracting Out

According to Bertelli (2012), there are several propositions to be made when it comes to discussing the make-or-buy decisions. The Canonical Model deserves to be mentioned first; it presupposes that “the congressional floor median, a congressional committee, the president, and an administrative agency” (Bertelli, 2012, p. 96) should exert their power to address specific issues. The proposition 4.3 dictates that an ideal point should be made when delegating a governance task; the uncertainty principle (proposition 4.4) requires that the amount of discretion granted by the Congress should increase with the rise of uncertainty. The Ally Principle II (proposition 4.5) presupposes that the statutory discretion for the execution of power should be restricted (Bertelli, 2012).

Themes in Comparative Public Administration

As diverse as the scope of the PA is, there still are common themes that are raised by the theorists; more importantly, there are the points that the latter generally agree on. As a rule, the ideas that all authors seem to support belong to rather broad and commonplace issues. For instance, Welch and Wong (1998) assume that a global administrative environment can be created, whereas Wilson (1975) argues that bureaucracy is bound to put the development of the latter to a halt.

However, even the discussion of some of the basic theses that the PA is built on leads to major disagreement among scholars. The above-mentioned issue regarding the source of power (i.e., citizens vs. public administrators) is a graphic example of such disagreements.

Reference List

Bertelli, M. A. (2012). The political economy of public sector governance. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bertelli, M. A. (2012a). Introduction. The political economy of public sector governance (1–18). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bertelli, M. A. (2012b). Methodological foundations. The political economy of public sector governance (19–38). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bertelli, M. A. (2012c). The power of the purse. The political economy of public sector governance (39–77). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Riggs, F. W. (1980). The ecology and context of public administration: a comparative perspective. Public Administration Review, 40(1), 107–115.

Welch, E. &Wong, W. (1998). Public administration in a global context: bridging the gaps of theory and practice between western and non-western nations. Public Administration Review, 58(1), 40–49.

Wilson, J. Q. (1975). The rise of the bureaucratic state. The Public Interest, 41(1), 77–103.

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