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Latin administr{a}ti{o}n-em, n. of action, f. administr{a}-re: see ADMINISTER v. The Fr. administration (13th c. in Littré) may be the immed. source.]


  • 1. The action of administering or serving in any office; service, ministry, attendance, performance of duty. Obs. in general sense.
  • 2. Performance, execution of. Obs.
  • 3. Management (of any business).
  • 4. ellipt. The management of public affairs; the conducting or carrying on of the details of government; hence, sometimes, used for government.
  • 5. a. The executive part of the legislature; the ministry; now often loosely called the ‘Government.’
b. transf. The period of office of a particular government, president, etc. U.S.
  • 6. Law. The management and disposal of the estate of a deceased person by an executor or administrator. spec. As opposed to probate, The authority to administer the estate of an intestate, as conferred by Letters of Administration granted, formerly by the Ordinary, now by the Probate Division of the High Court of Justice.
  • 7. The action of administering something to others:
a. Dispensation (of a sacrament, of justice, etc.).
b. Giving or application (of remedies).
c. Tendering (of an oath).
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Public administration can be broadly described as the development, implementation and study of branches of government policy. The pursuit of the public good by enhancing civil society, ensuring a well-run, fair, and effective public service are some of the goals of the field.

Public administration is carried out by public servants who work in public departments and agencies, at all levels of government, and perform a wide range of tasks. Public administrators collect and analyze data (statistics), monitor budgets, draft legislation, develop policy, and execute legally mandated government activities. Public administrators serve in many roles: ranging from "front-line" positions serving the public (e.g., peace officers, parole officers, border guards); administrators (e.g., auditors); analysts (e.g., policy analysts); and managers and executives of government branches and agencies.

Public administration is also an academic field. In comparison with related fields such as political science, public administration is relatively new, having emerged in the 19th century. Multidisciplinary in character, it draws on theories and concepts from political science, economics, sociology, administrative law, behavioral science, management and a range of related fields. The goals of the field of public administration are related to the democratic values of improving equality, justice, security, efficiency, effectiveness of public services usually in a non-profit, non-taxable venue; business administration, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with taxable profit. For a field built on concepts (accountability, governance, decentralization, clientele), these concepts are often ill-defined and typologies often ignore certain aspects of these concepts (Dubois & Fattore 2009).[1]

In the United States, the academic field draws heavily on political science and law. Scholars such as John A. Rohr write of a long history behind the constitutional legitimacy of government bureaucracy. In Europe (notably in Britain and Germany), the divergence of the field from other disciplines can be traced to the 1720s continental university curriculum. Formally, official academic distinctions were made in the 1910s and 1890s, respectively.

One minor tradition that the more specific term "public management" refers to ordinary, routine or typical management concerns, in the context of achieving public good. Others argue that public management as a new, economically driven perspective on the operation of government. This latter view is often called "new public management" by its advocates. New Public Management represents a reform attempt, aimed at reemphasizing the professional nature of the field. This will replace the academic, moral or disciplinary emphasis. Some theorists advocate a bright line differentiation of the professional field from related academic disciplines like political science and sociology; it remains interdisciplinary in nature.

As a field, public administration can be compared to business administration, and the master of public administration (MPA) viewed as similar to a master of business administration (MBA) for those wishing to pursue governmental or non-profit careers. An MPA often emphasizes substantially different ethical and sociological criteria that are traditionally secondary to that of profit for business administrators. The MPA is related to similar government studies including public affairs, public policy, and political science. Differences often include program emphases on policy analysis techniques or other topical focus such as the study of international affairs as opposed to focuses on constitutional issues such as separation of powers, administrative law, problems of governance and power, and participatory democracy.

The Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) is an applied-research doctoral degree in the field of public administration, focusing on practice. The DPA requires a dissertation and significant coursework beyond the masters level. Upon successful completion of the doctoral requirements, the title of "Doctor" is awarded and the post-nominals of D.P.A. are often added.

Public administration theory is the domain in which discussions of the meaning and purpose of government, bureaucracy, budgets, governance, and public affairs takes place. In recent years, public administration theory has periodically connoted a heavy orientation toward critical theory and postmodern philosophical notions of government, governance, and power. However, many public administration scholars support a classic definition of the term emphasizing constitutionality, service, bureaucratic forms of organization, and hierarchical government.

See also


  1. Dubois, Hans F. W.; Fattore, Giovanni (2009). International Journal of Public Administration. 32(8). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 704-727. doi:10.1080/01900690902908760. "The field of public administration knows many concepts. By focusing on one such concept, this research shows how definitions can be deceptive..."
  2. Wilson, Woodrow, "The Study of Administration," Political Science Quarterly 2 (June 1887)