What are some issues and dilemmas of contemporary public administration?

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Public administration is fraught with issues and dilemmas in the Western world of today, exemplified by the issues and dilemmas that occur in the United States at federal, state, and local levels. Three areas come to mind immediately: scarce resources, contracting, and transparency.  

Because all public administration is funded by taxpayers, what resources are available to public administrators is a function of which way the pendulum is swinging, in a trend towards big government or in a trend towards small government.  Presently, there is a trend towards austerity, i.e., small government, even though we all expect our public administrators to provide everything we want.  So, public administrators are experiencing shrinking budgets, which means they must try to get the same "output" with less money, fewer people, and even less in supplies.  Requiring fewer people to do more work is particularly tricky because public administrators have few ways of rewarding people for harder work.  Raises are limited to whatever pay scale is mandated and bonuses are rarely possible.  The workforce tends to be disgruntled because there are so few rewards.  The limitations of budget have always been a problem, but today they loom large on the public administration landscape.

Contracting is another recent trend, paying a private entity to perform government functions.  This is a problem because private contractors are never as accountable to taxpayers as public entities are and they also tend to not act as though they are "bound" by the constraints of the Constitution or other law.  Delegating public responsibility to private entities creates myriad difficulties for government. For example, Blackwater, the company that performed "government" tasks in Iraq, appears to have acted quite irresponsibly, even going so far as killing people.  Another instance is the present NSA delegation of national security tasks to a private firm.  How well is this information being safeguarded by a private entity?  Would there have been a leak if the NSA had not contracted this work to a private entity?  Yet another example is the contracting of the building and running of prisons, which some private contractors do now.  It appears that prisoners are not being treated properly at all in many instances.  So, contracting for government responsibilities creates many issues. 

Our demand for transparency in government today and the ease with which we can find out what our government is doing, via various means of digital communication, is a major issue.  Historically, even public administrators had the latitude to operate to some degree behind closed doors. Those days are gone forever, and everything an administrator does is subject to public scrutiny.  This has led to many "scandals," for example, the IRS spending excessively on foolish "training" videos and some rather wild parties for public servants that have made the news.  Pretty much everything a public administrator does can be found out today, so public administrators really need to keep their noses clean!

There are certainly other issues and dilemmas faced by public administrators today.  But these three areas are of particular concern, challenges to be reckoned with.