American E-Government and Public Administration


E-government is a relatively new concept in governance because it encompasses all government roles that are associated with information and communications technology (ICT) (Racino, 2014). Its application in the governance sector transcends the scope of e-commerce because it covers important aspects of governance and administration, such as a government’s economic program, its relationship with the citizens, its application with the rule of law (e-democracy), and its implementation of internal management processes (Donald & Fessler, 2009).

The movement to adopt e-government in governance has spread to different aspects of the public administration sector, including the creation of the International Institute of Administrative services (Grönlund & Horan, 2005). Such changes have developed from the four arms of the e-government concept, which focus on citizen-centered service provision, the availability of information as a public resource, enhancement of working relationships, and improving accountability in the public sector (Racino, 2014). The e-government movement, in the PA sector, hinges on three pillars. They include government, technology, and management (Donald & Fessler, 2009). Technology and management are concepts that emerge from the corporate sector, while the concept of government stems from the public management sector.

The core tenets of e-government that have redefined public administration have enabled its application in different departments of service provision. Nonetheless, despite the predicted large-scale application of the concept, it is unclear how the paradigms of public administration (PA) apply to e-government (Donald & Fessler, 2009; Racino, 2014). This paper strives to fill this research gap by explaining how the ancestral roots of public administration and its associated paradigms apply to e-government. The purpose of this study is as follows


To find out how the paradigms and evolution of American government apply to e-government and to understand how the ancestral roots of PA emerge in the e-government movement.

Review of the literature

History and Paradigms of Public Administration

Before the 19th century, cases of anarchism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, oligarchy, tyranny, feudalism, hegemony, and autocracy characterized PA. At the time, many leaders exuded hubris (a negative term implying both arrogant, excessive self-pride) (Donald & Fessler, 2009). Failing in constitutionalism and buoyed by a disregard for the constitution, extensive plutocracy and massive abuses of police power also characterized this period (Racino, 2014; Waluchow, 2014).

At the time, technocrats understood public administration within a narrow prism of administrative law, but future advances in the discipline found the concept too restrictive (Racino, 2014). The elite theory characterized governance practices during the early inception period of PA (Denhardt, 2009). However, the concept of the supremacy of law highlighted the need for order and unity through public administration. The earliest forms of bureaucracy also emerged this way (Denhardt, 2009). The modern conception of PA, as practiced in America, is an extension of social democracy. It emerged from the works of classic and liberal philosophers, such as Aristotle and John Locke (Racino, 2014). However, many observers consider Woodrow Wilson as the greatest pioneer of public administration in America (Janda, Berry, Goldman, & Hula, 2011).

Through the social contract theory and the quest for social equity in America, public administration grew through different paradigms. Societies used these paradigms to attain different forms of equality, including the equality of outcome and equality of opportunity, to access public goods and services (Janda et al., 2011). There are many paradigms in PA. Researchers who have contributed towards explaining them include Woodrow Wilson and Frank Goodnow and Nicholas Henry (Smith, 2015). Their views appear below

Paradigm 1: Politics/Administration Dichotomy

Woodrow Wilson and Frank Goodnow (cited in Smith, 2015) were among the first people to support the politics/administration paradigm by explaining the relationship between politics and administration. They advanced this paradigm by defining the boundaries of public administration through the relationship that public officials have with elected representatives (Smith, 2015). They said politics was concerned with policy formulation, while the PA field was concerned with the execution of the said policies. The substantive democratic theory affirms this view because it proposes that democracy is in the substance of government policies rather than in the policymaking procedure (McLean & McMillan, 2009).

Paradigm 2: Principles of Public Administration

This paradigm focused on highlighting the importance of gaining public administration skills as a form of expertise (Janda et al., 2011). Such skills often appeal to various principles of PA. Different researchers have defined these scientific principles. For example, in his book titled, Principles of Public Administration, F. W. Willoughby outlined different scientific principles of public administration (Bowling & Wright, 1998).

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, many institutions were willing to hire PAs for their managerial expertise (Appleby, 1947). During this time, industry and government experts distinctively differentiated administration and its principles. Researchers, such as Luther H. Gullick and Lyndall Urwick (cited in Bowling & Wright, 1998), have highlighted the need for adhering to the principles of public administration because of the focus they brought to the concerned parties.

The principle of public administration postulates that most public administration activities should be management-based (although presented as administrative reforms) (Denhardt, 2009). The principles of public administration paradigm also postulate that social democracy and efficiency align together and that government work could split between decision-making and execution (separation of powers) (Janda et al., 2011). For example, the voting rule (in a parliamentary system) and the voting rule (majority) emphasize the democratic forms of government in the society, as represented by libertarians and the libertarianism movement (the ideology that is opposed to all government action except as necessary to protect life and property) (Appleby, 1947). The classical organizational theory is a product of this reasoning (Smith, 2015).

Paradigm 3: The Challenge

The challenge paradigm explores the differences between politics and administration. It postulates that although they are different, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. To explain this point, Appleby (1947) highlights administration difficulties (in PA) without understanding the politics that characterize management. Here, business and politics cannot fully mix; otherwise, “special interests” (from interest groups, who are pushed by lobbyists or by republicans and democratic socialists) would influence the provision of public goods and services (Racino, 2014).

A conservative understanding of the laissez-faire rule (an economic doctrine that opposes any form of government intervention in business) emphasizes this fact (Smith, 2015). The pluralist model of democracy (government by the people operating through competing interest groups) would similarly suffer if this outcome sufficed because it supports a government by the people.

Comprehensively, the challenge paradigm hinges on four principles. The first one highlights the difficulty of separating politics and administration (Smith, 2015). The second one opposes some of the views presented in the second paradigm (principles of public administration) because it argues that the principles of public administration were logically inconsistent. Close to this argument is the opposition to the concept of “principle” in public administration, which the paradigm also advocates for (Smith, 2015). One principle of the challenge paradigm questions the differentiation of politics and public administration because its proponents argue that if there was a principle of public administration, a principle of politics also had to exist because it was difficult to differentiate the two (Smith, 2015).

Broadly, the principles of the challenge paradigm challenged some of the assumptions presented by proponents of the principles of public administration. Chester Barnard best captures these principles in his book titled, “The Functions of the Executive” (Denhardt, 2009). Herbert A. Simon’s also captures the same argument in his book titled, “Administrative Behavior in 1938” (Smith, 2015). From the works of these authors, for every principle presented in the second paradigm (the principles of public administration), there was a counter principle, thereby challenging the premise presented in the second paradigm in the first place.

Paradigm 4: Public Administration as a Political Science

By reinforcing the importance of democracy and morality, this fourth paradigm strives to establish a relationship between public administration and political science. Proponents of this theory say public administration is a synonym for political science (Jilke, Meuleman, & Van de Walle, 2015). However, many political scientists have tried to undermine this relationship by saying that public administration is not an important tenet of political science.

This is why Donald & Fessler (2009) say that the organizing committee of the American Political Science Organization eliminated public administration as a core category in the field of bureaucratic politics (within the political science structure). In this paradigm, the interests of the minority matter, including minority rights. The procedural democratic theory, which advocates for universal participation, political equality, majority rule, and responsiveness in democratic processes, emerged from this premise (Bowling & Wright, 1998; Wheeler, 1998). Governments that adopt this theory are (mostly) republic systems (Donald & Fessler, 2009). The principles of political equality and political harmony are central tenets of this political ideology because they are enshrined in the bill of rights (Smith, 2015).

Paradigm 5: Paradigm of Public Administration as Management

This paradigm was among the most commonly used public administration paradigms between 1950 and 1970 (Jilke et al., 2015). It developed out of frustrations of public administrators to be unwanted in the political science field (Bowling & Wright, 1998).

Therefore, they wanted to find a different outfit from the discipline. Furthermore, the blurred line between public administration and private administration made it difficult for the professionals to continue assuming they were part of the wider political science realm. Developments of the business school gave rise to the conception of public administration as a management concept. However, early adopters of the concept found it difficult to understand how the profit-motivated space of business could accommodate the public interest of public administration (Bowling & Wright, 1998).

Nonetheless, the paradigm of public administration as management argues that the two concepts (public administration and public management) are not inherently different because they (occasionally) share the same virtues and values (Smith, 2015). In this regard, management was not a focus for public administration, but rather a locus of analysis where most aspects of public administration revolved around. Stated differently, management provided techniques for applying public administration principles. Most of these techniques involved understanding technical skills and expertise, but it was unclear how they could fit in the institutional setting. Based on this analysis, experts say this paradigm pushed experts in the field of PA to reevaluate what “public” meant in PA (Bowling & Wright, 1998).

Nonetheless, the public administration as a management paradigm is similar to the paradigm of public administration as public administration because they both do not pay much attention to context when applying the principles of public administration.

Paradigm 6: The Forces of Separatism

This paradigm stems from the understanding that PAs are independent academicians and practitioners (Khan, 2008). In America, the systematic thinking about public administration stemmed from efforts by political scientists to present it as so.

Paradigm 7: Public Administration as Public Administration

This paradigm argues that there is a false distinction between public, business, and institutional administration (Smith, 2015). It advocates for the understanding that administration is administration. According to some known researchers in the PA field, such as Keith M. Henderson and his peers, the organizing theory should be the ultimate framework for understanding public administration (Smith, 2015). This theory postulates that organization development found its way in the field of public administration through social psychology (Jilke et al., 2015). The opening up of organizations and the self-actualization of most of its members also helped to support this reasoning (Jilke et al., 2015).

Here, administrative science could easily trigger a confrontation between the proponents of public and private administration. However, years of debate and research established the idea that public administration was mostly concerned with the determination and implementation of public interests (Jilke et al., 2015). Broadly, the paradigm of administration as public administration encourages public administrators to accept their role as so and not change it to something else (Smith, 2015). This paradigm has widely publicized the concept of “public affairs.”

Paradigm 8: Governance

This paradigm emerged from the increased prominence of theories and concepts of governance in the PA field. The increased attention paid to the governance principles elevated the concept to the level of a paradigm in the PA field (Khan, 2008). Some researchers have gone ahead and treated governance as a proxy of public administration (Collins, 2004). The association between public administration and governance stems from the eclectic character of public administration. Its adoption exemplifies the notion that PA is both an art and a science. Nonetheless, the paradigm of governance presents a liberated view of public administration by arguing that most people should appreciate the links between public agencies and the rest of the society (Smith, 2015). It also advocates for the provision of public goods by non-profit organizations, as opposed to their for-profit counterparts (Smith, 2015).



The e-government movement started in the early 1990s when the US government started saving data using electronic means (Koh & Prybutok, 2003). In the mid and late 1990s, governments substituted information technology functions with information communication technology (Koh & Prybutok, 2003). Although the emphasis on e-government has mostly been about computerization and automation, many governments today use e-government functions to protect people’s inalienable right to information (Mintz & McNeil, 2016).

Reasons for the adoption of E-government

In a confederation like America (bound by the articles of federation), the e-government framework offers an efficient and cost-effective way of offering public services to its citizens (Hussain, Ali, & Kumar, 2015). Capitalists and the communists agree on this point because they say e-government could help maintain national sovereignty over its affairs in a country that respects judicial independence.

E-government could also help the judicial branch of government to gain access to adequate information when undertaking judicial reviews. This way, they could easily preside over cases of congressional (and presidential) violations of law, if any state organ ignores the constitution by formulating unlawful acts (Hussain et al., 2015). This way, the judiciary branch could help prevent cases of “democratic extremes” because they could undermine the rights and liberties of others in democratic countries like America (Hussain et al., 2015).

In the same manner, the e-government model could also eliminate abuses of executive privileges (abuse of home rule), abuse of the necessary and proper clause, or abuse of cabinet privileges, by the executive branch. Citizens also benefit from e-government because it increases transparency (checks and balances) in the provision of government services, simplifies bureaucratic processes, and reduces the likelihood of the legislative branch to abuse its powers, or a president to use an executive order to support unconstitutional actions (McKinney & Howard, 2008). Through increased citizen participation, e-government also improves the democratization process and albeit it borders on the periphery of socialism, it reinforces the principles of procedural justice by making sure everybody who wants to take part in elective politics meets the qualifications for office (Andre & Velasquez, n.d.).

Facts and Prevalence

Federal governments around the world have adopted e-government to improve distributive justice (McKinney & Howard, 2008). For example, researchers have documented the adoption of e-government services in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America (Smith, 2015). Canada and the United States have adopted e-government in different aspects of their PA functions, including campaigning (creating electoral colleges), providing government data, increasing transparency and other civic activities, such as creating a representative democracy is a system of government where citizens elect public officials to govern on their behalf. Although some Middle East and Asian governments are under minority rule and perceive certain aspects of democracy as treason, they have adopted e-government to improve service delivery (Shahghasemi, Tafazzoli, Akhavan, Mirani, & Khairkhah, 2013).

Analysis of the Paradigms and E-government

The e-government model exemplifies the principles of public administration (second paradigm). This paradigm advocates for the improved efficiency of public services to promote pluralism. Championed by blue-dog democrats and the republican movement, e-government is attractive for its efficiency (McKinney & Howard, 2008). It gives citizens the freedom to pursue happiness and accords them the liberty of doing so without inhibitions.

The fifth paradigm, which argues that public administration is management-oriented, also sits at the center of efforts by governments to adopt e-government because the model is a management tool to streamline public administration practices (Shahghasemi et al., 2013). The adoption of e-governance in public administration also reinforces the principles of the eighth paradigm, which talks about governance. This principle advocates for a liberated view of public administration, which appreciates the union between public administrators and other members of the society. Progressives often support this view because they believe the 21st century is a progressive era (Shahghasemi et al., 2013; Zainaldin & John, 2015).


This paper has shown that some different concepts and practices underlie public administration as an art and a science. A review of existing literature shows that there are eight such paradigms. The e-governance model appeals to three of them (governance, public administration as management, and the principles of public administration). This analysis shows that public administration and e-governance merge on the premise of the difficulty of differentiating management from PA. The three paradigms mentioned above draw the link between the two. Comprehensively, e-government could promote mercantilism (an economic idea that a country will be better off if it has a positive trade balance) and improve a country’s GDP growth in this way.


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