AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
President Clinton initiated the National Performance Review in March 1993. Bill Clinton had campaigned promising change in government, and comprehensive executive reorganization would be part of that effort. Clinton claimed the National Performance Review would be "a historic step.... We intend to redesign, to reinvent, to reinvigorate the entire national government" (Clinton, 1993; 351).
Executive reorganization has a history, contrary to the president's claim for novelty in his initiative. There is a 90-year-old old tradition of executive-centered administrative reform (Arnold, 1986). President Clinton is the 13th president in this century to initiate or embrace comprehensive reorganization or reform, using these terms interchangeably. Why did President Clinton initiate an effort to improve administration? Is he committed to reversing what Ronald C. Moe has described as the tendency of recent presidents to doubt "that a comprehensive organizational strategy is necessary for achieving their political or policy objectives..." (Moe, 1990; 129)? Does the National Performance Review address the nexus of managerial and political issues that have concerned executive reorganization historically? Some insight can be gained on this contemporary use of administrative reform by examining it in the historical context of past efforts at executive reorganization.
The tradition of commentary in public administration that addresses administrative reform tends to take this enterprise as a wholly explicit and rational activity. That is, we comprehend comprehensive reorganization and reform efforts in terms of their own publicly stated purposes. They are understood as organized, rational efforts to improve administration (DiIulio, Garvey, and Kettl, 1993; Rosenbloom, 1993).
What public administration commentary has characteristically missed is that comprehensive executive reorganization has always had two different purposes, pursued simultaneously. First, and most evident, executive reorganization engages in administrative repair - its explicit and rational activity. It is a means for the adjustment of complex bureaucratic systems. Administrative structures and processes require adaptation to changing policies and contexts. Recurrent comprehensive reorganization efforts addressed the implications of changing administrative circumstances for process and organization.
Second, and implicit, comprehensive reform in the United States engages also in what may be called regime-level politics (Arnold, 1988). It has been a means for fitting administration to the fundamental political contours of the American regime. Through its conceptualization of administration, the problems it addresses, its language, and its recommendations, every reorganization episode relates administration to political authority (March and Olsen, 1989; 69-94). Properly understood, executive reorganization is more than administrative improvement dutifully undertaken by presidents; presidents are not altruists. Rather, throughout this century, presidents have initiated comprehensive reorganization planning to cope with fundamental political issues entailed in the relationship of authority to administration in the American separation of powers regime.
Comprehensive executive reorganization planning began early in this century with assumptions about administration that emboldened presidents to use reorganization to justify and strengthen executive governance. Does President Clinton seek through the National Performance Review the kind of managerial leverage over expanding government that Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon sought in reorganization?
This question about the National Performance Review ties administrative history to policy analysis. The aim here is to use executive reorganization's history to highlight changes in its contemporary uses. The analysis is developed in three stages. The first part recounts the way public administration theory helped legitimize executive power in the American separation of powers regime. Then in an overview of the history of reorganization, the changing relationship between reorganization and executive power is observed. Finally, the National Performance Review is compared to earlier comprehensive reorganization efforts.
The Progressive Understanding of
Surprisingly, because of its utilitarian and apolitical self-presentation, American public administration theory and doctrines bridged a critical, political gap in the American regime at the opening of the 20th century. The Constitution's architecture of separation of powers made for balanced responsibilities but was inhospitable to the executive centralization natural to the large administrative state (Waldo, 1948; 104-129). Experience abroad taught that good administration required organizations of specialists, hierarchically arranged under unified, executive authority (Weber, 1964). Thus, competent administrative organization presumed a different arrangement of authority than seemed available within a separation of powers system.
The American theory of public administration was a prescription for an administrative system torn by separation of powers and partisan politics. Thus, it was explicitly a theory of administration and, implicitly, a theory of politics. Emerging in the Progressive era, a new conception of public administration finessed the problems of separation of powers and partisan politics. Executive reorganization through ad hoc commissions was born as a technique for implementing the new administrative theory.
Progressive era theorists of public administration differed in important ways from other critics of separation of powers of the time, such as Henry Jones Ford (1898) or Herbert Croly (1909). Rather than directly attacking the effect of separation of powers on American governance, administrative theorists finessed constitutional problems through a new conceptualization of administration. This tactic was strikingly successful. Even as Ford and Croly seem antique to us, much modern discourse about administration retains the framework invented by the Progressive public administrationists. Despite repeated attacks on its assumptions, the politics-administration dichotomy remains alive in conventional language about public administration (Moe, 1985).
The idea that public management was apart from politics opened space for the development of autonomous public administration within the American regime. During the Progressive era, three kinds of arguments distinguished public administration from politics. The first pertained to public service as necessarily distinct from politics for reasons of technical expertise as well as for the classic civil service concern with corruption. For example, Frank Goodnow argued that administration is largely "unconnected with politics because it embraces fields of semi-scientific, quasi-judicial, and quasi-business or commercial activity - work which has little if any influence on the expression of the true state will" (Goodnow, 1900; 86).
The second argument that advocated a distinct identity for administration addressed the introduction of foreign administrative practices into American government - cross-cultural transference. European training formed American social science (Herbst, 1965; Ross, 1991), and American scholars returned from European study with lessons about administration in the context of centralized systems. Were these lessons applicable to the decentralized American system? Defending the proposition that Americans could incorporate European administrative wisdom into their practice, Woodrow Wilson wrote:
We ... have found but one rule of good administration for all governments alike. So far as administrative functions are concerned, all governments have a strong structural likeness; more than that, if they are to be uniformly useful and efficient, they must have a strong structural likeness (Wilson, 1887; 502).
Third, administration was characterized as properly beyond the separation of powers. It was argued that administration ought to be exempt from the logic of separation of powers because it effects decisions made within the separation of powers system. The claim was that the only way that administration could be true to a proper understanding of separation of powers was to be exempt from its influence. Administration's responsibility was the efficient implementation of public policy that was itself formed in the pull and tug among separate branches (Willoughby, 1919; 227-267).
The Progressive accomplishment of a notion of administration separate from politics gave to public administration a paradoxical power. On the one hand, administration was conceived as mere technique - expert, efficient, and predictable. On the other hand, an apolitical public administration had a capacity to finesse tensions across the separation of powers divide as American government expanded. As government took on new functional responsibilities, it required new capacities for analysis, management, and planning, and the …