Challenges to american public administration: complexity, bureaucratization, and the culture of distrust



In the United States, the development of public administration has depended on its different historic challenges. There have been periods characterized by much contemplation of “why things don’t work,” when one hears more about the problems of the field than about solutions. In contrast, solutions become the center of discussions during periods of optimism. Public Administration in the United States has seemingly entered an era of reform over the past decade. Such an era is characterized by a major change in attitute, particuarly towards two challenges, those of complexity and bureaucratization. The treatment of these challenges has gone from pessimistic views of the mid-1970s to the current more proactive approaches. Public administration in the United States has always had to contend with its low level of legitimacy, but every so often the level of distrust would decrease enough for the nation's leaders to carry out needed reforms. Such a time is approaching as public administrators in the United States prepare to take on the challenges of complexity and bureaucratization. To do so effectivelly, however, requires a greater level degree of trust than is now forthcoming from the public. Until the cultural challenge is confronted, all other efforts are likely to fail. Looking at how the other challenges have been transformed can help us underestand what it takes to transform a challenge from an obstacle into a target for change. Less optimistically, it may be necessary to wait until the culture evolves on its own.


Political Science

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International Journal of Public Administration


Taylor & Francis

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