Understanding the importance of public administration
Imagine a town that wants to improve access to its public buildings. Theoretically, the citizens of the town could appeal to their elected officials for the change and maybe vote on a ballot measure. Once that measure has passed, officials could craft a policy addressing the need for improved access, and then allocate the funds...and then things get a little tricky.
Political processes are rarely as smooth as the phrase "craft a policy" might suggest. Politics is an extremely competitive field, with high visibility and dire consequences for politicians who make mistakes. In an environment like that, policies rarely come out of the box fully functional. It's easy to think of sweeping policies like the Affordable Care Act or DACA that make perfect sense on paper but somehow seem difficult to put into practice, even with popular support.1 Fortunately, public administrators serve to help implement legislation that may end up saving lives and can champion the importance of community development.
Turning policy into reality
Even on the local level, our imaginary town with its desire to improve public access will run into roadblocks. Once money is allocated to make a change, who's in charge of actually making the change happen? This is where public administrators come in.
Whether they work for a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization (NGO) or the local government, a public administrator's job is to take policy and implement it in the real world. This can mean working directly with the public, making sure that resources reach the people who need them. It can also mean working with an organization internally, creating processes and procedures that enable resource allocation to work as intended.
Leadership for the public good
Public administrators can be involved at all levels of public service. But whether they're working to implement policy in specific areas like healthcare or environmental regulation, or whether they're working in a more general capacity within an organization, public administrators utilize the same executive and management skill sets to make change.
As the name suggests, a major part of the public administrator's job is administration, including managing people. A public administrator sits at the center of a large group of people involved in making a change, a group that can include researchers, analysts and consultants. It's the public administrator’s job to keep their team focused and moving in the same direction.
Advocating for people who need it
Whenever a community tries to craft policy to serve vulnerable populations, it can be difficult to ensure the population being served has a voice in the policymaking process. In many communities, public administrators also act as support to individuals who need it, especially vulnerable populations who do not have family or other advocates to speak for them. This may even include acting as guardian or conservator for individuals who lack this care.
Developing the economy
In addition to implementing specific policy, public administrators can also be made responsible for helping a community develop economically. In the 1960s, New York City became the first city to hire an economic development manager, a practice that is now commonplace.2 Though the private sector may assume some responsibility for creating jobs and economic growth, it is the job of a good public administrator to ensure that it does so fairly, with equal opportunity to different stakeholders in the community.
Strategically speaking, administrators may be responsible for determining fair land use in a community, or for developing a workforce organization solution. They may even be responsible for leading infrastructure development implementation that will empower a safer, more productive workforce.
Impacting individuals and families
Whenever a public sector organization attempts to intervene in the lives of individuals or their families, a public administrator is behind the intervention. These compassionate individuals work hard to ensure that the programs you've heard of, like Head Start and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), function properly. They're also responsible for tasks as complicated as refugee resettlement.3
And this is a mere sampling of the many ways that public administrators impact communities across the U.S. and the world. By working hard to engage the public with the policies that are designed to serve them, public administrators are the unsung heroes of the public sector.
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1. Retrieved on January 31, 2018, from patimes.org/relevance-context-public-management-complex-environment/
2. Retrieved on January 31, 2018, from patimes.org/public-administrators-impact-americas-economic-future/
3. Retrieved on January 31, 2018, from acf.hhs.gov/fact-sheets