Department of Government

Politics of public administration

Public administration relates to the study of the public sector’s organisation and working methods. There are several different components within this sub-discipline: partially it involves the public sector’s administrative architecture, which cannot be assumed to be a static “given”, we also study the importance of public administrative organs, when it comes to initiating, formulating and implementing public policy.

The main parameters of importance for the public administration’s prospects when it comes to implementing the governing majority’s policies relate to the public administration’s; organisation (for example the degree of decentralisation, and relationships between ministries and governmental agencies); finance (how public activities are financed, and the budget process etc.), similarly  the public administration’s staffing policies (educational requirements, and the degree of autonomy for professions and the government’s appointment power etc). Chiefly, the study of public administration and its politics is about the forms and conditions for the implementation of different types of politics. It should also be mentioned that the analysis of public administration can occur from different theoretical perspectives, for example; constitutional, decision-making and power-based theoretical and/or organisational perspectives.

Separating politics and administration has long been a feature of public administrative systems, so as to attempt to maintain distance between politicians and administrators roles. However modern empirical research has established that public administration is also involved in politics. In reality the public administration has considerable possibilities to exert political influence, regardless of which part of the public decision making process we examine. This realization raises several topical issues, of interest from a political science perspective. Partly because it is obvious that the governing politicians must, in some way, develop an administrative apparatus that creates the best possible conditions for ensuring that their political policies are actually put into effect (governance and steering problem). This problem is also accentuated with the creation of a new political level as a result of EU entry. Partly the assertion that the public administration is also involved in politics means that we also face democratic issues. According to democracy theory power must be coupled with responsibility, yet the assertion that the public administration exerts political power, raises issues of how the administration can be held accountable (accountability problem). From the citizen’s perspective this problem pertains to how the role of public administrators can be justified in a democracy as legitimate. Therefore these problem raise issues relating to which type of institutions are required to guarantee that the public administration does not abuse its powers.

The Department of Government’s courses and research examines issues and problems relating to public administration in Sweden, other countries and international organisations. For an outline of public administration projects currently in progress, click on the link above.