What is Public Policy Administration?

Barbara R. Cochran

Public policy administration is the implementation and management of governmental policies, based on expert analysis and the resolution of specific issues that generally have a far-reaching impact on the citizens who live under the government in question. Politicians and policy analysts formulate public policy at the national, regional, and local levels. Citizens are often active players who have an influence on public policy decisions that could be beneficial to their special interests. As a result, public policy administration is, from time to time, seen as a humanistic endeavor.

Public policy administration puts government policies into place.
Public policy administration puts government policies into place.

A rational approach can also be taken when it comes to public policy administration. One example of this can be seen in the United States in 1980s, while President Reagan was in the White House, and later during the first decade of the 21st century, under the George W. Bush administration. With a rational approach, public policy administrators attempt to implement and sustain policy in such a way that it promotes private business and governmental bureaucracy. It might be debated that policies implemented under those presidencies were not actually "public," in the true sense of the word, as they largely ignored the issues of the average man or woman on the street, and especially the poor, who have typically relied heavily on government programs like Medicaid and food stamps. As an example, President Bush went to great lengths to try to get the American public, and policy analysts, to agree with the privatization of Social Security system.

Lobbyists attempt to shape public policy.
Lobbyists attempt to shape public policy.

Since the 19th century, public administration theorists have fluctuated between the advocacy of rational and humanistic systems for the formulation and administration of policy. In a seminal article entitled The Study of Administration, published in 1887, future US president Woodrow Wilson advanced ways in which policy framers could best serve citizens, based on scientific managerial practices. He advocated keeping politics and administration as independent areas, since he considered administration to be more of a scientific endeavor.

Public policy is an attempt by a government to address public issues, such as healthcare or crime, by instituting laws, regulations, decisions, or actions.
Public policy is an attempt by a government to address public issues, such as healthcare or crime, by instituting laws, regulations, decisions, or actions.

In fact, public policies are decisions that have been reached through analysis of data, and implemented, ostensibly for the good of the people living under governments, by public policy administrations. Political science, however, has always been considered one of the social sciences, which means it can be affected by human contingencies. While all social scientists use scientific methods, such as the compilation of quantifiable data to reach or replicate certain conclusions, it is possible that, besides the citizens, the key players in public policy administration — the analysts and decision makers — are never really unbiased or neutral in actual practice.

Public policy might deal with social issues like racism are dealt with.
Public policy might deal with social issues like racism are dealt with.

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Discussion Comments


@feruze-- As far as I understand, public policy is about making policy that governs the public. So this is the step where the policies are thought of and put together. Public policy administration (or public administration) is where the policies are actually implemented. So this is how the policies are put into practice.

If you're asking in terms of program curriculum at schools, I suspect they're similar. If you're interested in getting a masters in public policy and administration, you will study aspects of both policy making and implementation/administration. But I think there are also schools that offer separate programs on them, so check them out.


What is the difference between public policy vs public administration vs public policy administration?

They all sound the same to me.


My opinion is that public policy administration and politics are better separated at the lower levels of government. But as we move up the chain to national policy making, it's not as easy to ignore politics as it would seem.

Has anyone seen the documentary, Bush's War? There, they talk about how the Bush administration made the decision to invade Iraq and it's quite appalling. It's a slap on the face for those of us who thought that policy decisions are made following a certain structure and with the best interests of people at large.

But that's not always the case, at all. Sometimes they're made based on economic interests, sometimes based on political and sometimes even individual.

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