A Politics of Hope within Public Administration

“Hope” is a powerful word. Bill Clinton ran for the presidency as the man from Hope (Arkansas); Barack Obama won the presidency largely on a theme of hope and change. As our partisan politics and legislative politics demonstrate so vividly, hope, to the extent is exists, is often fleeting. The shift from campaigning to governing, and the inter-branch political gamesmanship that is a fundamental characteristic of the governmental and governance design, tends to squash hope. Progress is hardly ever as fast or efficient as elected officials would like and certainly not as fast or efficient as attentive citizens would like. What happens after all the campaigns for office have packed up, according to one possible definition of public administration, is the work of public administration. If hope can indeed be restored and sustained, the venue for the ambitious goal is not in the White House, governor’s office, or legislative assembly. The venue is the administration, which is the institution of government closest to the people and yet is typically, given complex rules and procedures associated with an instrumental view of the field, the furthest away and least understood.

I am presenting a paper at the Southeast Conference of Public Administration in New Orleans next week that explores these ideas. Download the paper (SECOPA Paper), and please offer your feedback and ideas. As noted in the document, the paper needs significant more development. Please do not cite or distribute further without my consent.

The figure to the left summarizes the core tenets of how a politics of hope within public administration might be constituted. Administrator actions and behavior ought to be transparent, deliberative, and constitutionally grounded. If this is the case, the outcomes that are possible include the elusive goal of bridging the citizen-government divide and increasinginformed trust, increasing citizen efficacy, and increasing perceptions of government legitimacy.

What do you think?

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