AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
In describing the American system, Woodrow Wilson (1887) declared more than 100 years ago:
Our duty is . . . to supply the best possible life to a federal organization, to systems within systems: to make town, city, county, state, and federal governments live with a like strength and an equally assured healthfulness, keeping each unquestionably its own master and yet making all interdependent and co-operative, combining independence with mutual helpfulness. The task is great and important enough to attract the best minds. (pp. 24-25)
One aspect in giving the best possible life to a federal system is the intergovernmental one, and a continuing and valuable literature in American public administration focuses on that aspect (O'Toole, 1993). The other aspect, however, is that of "a like strength and an equally assured healthfulness." This aspect focuses on the capacity of units or levels of government to effectively manage their activities so that they complement those of other units and levels of government and contribute meaningfully to the delivery of public services and the achievement of public goals. The focus here is on national administrative organizational units of government, which play a vital role in any national government system.
Awareness is growing that the capacity of national administrative organizations is becoming problematic. Some observers of the U.S. federal government argue that "disinvestment" in the public sector workforce through resource cuts, frequent reorganizations, excessive controls over administrative processes, and the scaling back of communications activities contributes to a decline in the administrative capacity of the national government where capacity is a property that "makes an organized set of actions possible" (Lane & Wolf, 1990, p. 2). Others assert that neglect of the administrative infrastructure and increased demands on national administrative agencies have reduced their capacity to perform needed functions (Goldstein, 1992). The problem of capacity is one of organizational design: How may an administrative system be organized so that it assigns sufficient, but not excess, capacity to the accomplishment of programmatic objectives? These issues, which are central to efforts to "reinvent government" (Osborne & Gaebler, 1992) or employ "liberation management" (Peters, 1992), are not fully developed by any author, or by any government improvement analysis (Gore, 1993); the capacity of national public sector organizations tends to be loosely associated with ability or competency. This issue is not confined to the United States, but as the ensuing analysis will demonstrate, it is shared by other countries, including those, like Sweden, with a quite different history and social system.
Governmental organizations operate in environments that are complex within public interest, economic, and managerial dimensions. Administrative problems may develop when one dimension is overemphasized to the neglect of the effects of the others. An examination of administrative capacity within the context of the governments of the United States and Sweden will provide a means for developing the argument. As will be demonstrated, some similar factors are influencing administrative capacity in both nations, posing important issues for policymakers.
This article seeks to (a) present a conceptual framework for governmental capacity that is pertinent to national administrative organizations; and (b) apply this concept of capacity to a comparative analysis of national administrative systems in Sweden and the United States.
ANALYTIC DIMENSIONS FOR NATIONAL ADMINISTRATIVE ORGANIZATIONS' CAPACITIES
Previous public administration research has not directly addressed a framework for analyzing the capacity of national administrative organizations. Nor has the research taken either a consistent or inclusive approach to the issue of public organizational capacity in general. The few treatments in the area tend to focus on a single dimension or aspect of a dimension. For example, management analysts such as Burgess (1975) and Honadle (1981) focus on institutional management or the management system of an organization, whereas public finance researchers such as Moak and Hillhouse (1975) and Bahl and Duncombe (1993) emphasize fiscal capacity, which focuses on financial resources that are available to support debt and/or current and future operations. These emphases are not so much incorrect as they are incomplete for purposes of gauging the capacity of national administrative agencies. Instead, a multidimensional approach is needed.
In previous articles, Wise (1989, 1990) examined three dimensions that can be applied in analysis of organizational structure and capacity: (a) public interest, (b) economic, and (c) management. Although these are intertwined in any given organization, they have distinctive features that reveal insights into the capacity of national agencies.
In reality, national organizations operate within a complex public service configuration of organizations. Such public service configurations consist of public organizations within several levels of government, private for-profit organizations, and private nonprofit organizations (Wise, 1990). National management responsibilities are really twofold: (a) institutional management (management within a single national organization), and (b) transorganizational management (management across organizational boundaries). The focus of the latter is on managing interdependencies among the array of organizations that make up the particular public service configuration. This latter responsibility does not exclude institutional management, because it requires the existence of governmental institutions possessing adequate capacity to play an effective role in the public service configuration.
At the current juncture, implementation of changes in national policy effectively means altering the behavior of public service configurations that have become exceedingly complex. To the extent that public policy designs depend on national organizations playing a strong role in policy development, policy guidance, policy implementation, and policy evaluation, they need to have sufficient capacity to play a partnership role with the other organizations in the public service configuration and to respond to political officials and citizens in a way that helps adjust the behavior of the configuration when called upon through democratic processes.
This is the fundamental problem facing national administrative agencies. The comprehensive nature of many social problems, as well as the limited means that members of the public and policymakers are all too often willing to grant to agencies to address them, suggest that agencies will often lack capacity to achieve expected levels of problem remediation regardless of the effectiveness of the internal management capacities of the program administrators. It is thus imperative that policy analysts and policymakers take a more comprehensive and realistic perspective of national administration organization capacity as they first set policy goals. They need to understand the forces that are affecting that capacity. Here we seek to discuss the dimensions of analysis that need to be considered to arrive at a more reasonable perspective.
PUBLIC INTEREST DIMENSION
The public interest dimension contains factors that are consequential for the ability of the organization to function within the governmental framework in a way that advances the public interest. In Western democracies, the public interest contains notions of popular control and leadership and assumptions about the appropriate use of sovereign power.
Organizational structures in themselves will generate incentives for reinforcing or retarding popular control. Furthermore, public organizations that receive and articulate public needs, influence other organizations to help meet them, and also help elected policymakers understand what the alternatives are for meeting the longer-run needs of the country have higher capacity than those that do not perform these functions.
As March and Olsen (1989, p. 118) discuss, the public interest is represented through both aggregative and integrative political processes, and governmental institutions can be assessed in terms of how well they fulfill the functions of both types of processes. With respect to aggregative processes, the public interest is revealed through political campaigns and bargaining among rational participants, each pursuing self-interest within a set of rules for governance through majority rule. With respect to integrative processes, the public interest is revealed through deliberation by reasoning citizens and rulers seeking to find the general welfare within a context of shared social values. Leadership in aggregative processes involves the brokerage of coalitions among interests; in integrative processes, leadership involves a trusteeship for social traditions and future needs and an educational role.
Evaluation of institutions as instruments for aggregating private preferences emphasizes questions of allocative efficiency subject to initial endowments of resources of participants and their preferences; it focuses on how such institutions produce public policies and allocate resources. Evaluation of institutions as instruments of integration emphasizes issues of the protection of rights and reasoned deliberation in search of the common good. March and Olsen (1989, pp. 118-138) emphasize that institutions ought to be evaluated in terms of their contribution to the integration of society as well as their contribution to the aggregation of diverse interests. Specifically, March and Olsen opine, "One of the oldest claims for democratic political processes is that they help develop an ethos of preferences that encourage cooperation and a sense of community" (p. 140). Institutions may either encourage community and cooperation or, on the contrary, encourage passivity and discourage individual initiative. As March and Olsen observe, historically the institutions of integration have included national systems of administration (p. 138).
It may be argued that the requirement that national administrative agencies play an integrative as well as an aggregative role is still a priority for democratic governments. With respect to the national policy formulation role of national organizations, Chubb and Peterson (1989) maintain that the United States needs institutions that have the responsibility and the authority, the incentives and the power, to pursue long-run national interests. A key role of public organizations is supposed to extend beyond the service they deliver in the immediate term to the encouragement they give to policymakers to give greater consideration to the national interest. One implication of this perspective is that public organizations in a public service configuration should serve as trustees for the nation's long-term interests, and they must act to counter the more parochial and immediate interests advanced within the day-to-day workings of the public service configuration. There are probably too few national administrative organizations capable of doing this now.
In terms of its implications for organizational capacity, the public interest dimension is significant for establishing and maintaining the legitimacy of a public service configuration. It emphasizes what national agencies must do to produce a desired benefit in political society. The public interest dimension must encompass more than assuring that citizen demands are met by governmental services. Wamsley, Goodsell, Rohr, White, and Wolf (1992) correctly note that administrative capacity within public administration "is the administration of public affairs in a political context," and as they point out, "agencies are repositories of specialized knowledge and historical …