Public policy has an enormous influence, both on governmental processes and the lives of citizens. To come to the right solution, complex models are created to achieve a successful analysis of the decision, calculate possible benefits and risks, and work out theoretical data on the problem. The science of public policy, although not always considered during the actual decision-making process, has successfully shaped the history of public policy and administration in the United States (and in Europe), and has drawn the attention of politicians and citizens to the fact that various issues could also be reviewed with the help of scientific analysis and the theoretical aspects of the study.
The definition and purposes of public policy may vary, depending on the person, his or her social status, position, and political preferences. In my opinion, public policy is a system that moderates and reviews complex social and political problems concerning law and public opinion. To come to the right solution, public policymakers need to empirically analyze and approach the history of the issue, as well as the risks and benefits it might bring.
Decisions in the Public Sector
The process of decision making in public policy is often complicated and might vary from one set of circumstances to another. In the article The Science of Muddling Through, Charles E. Lindblom approaches two ways of decision making in the public sector. These two methods are named Rational-Comprehensive (or the Root method) and Successive Limited Comparisons (or the Branch method); the approach to choosing decisions that are to be made using these methods requires different analysis of the values and possible policies (Lindblom, 1959, p. 81).
Lindblom ascribes certain characteristics to both methods: The Root method clarifies the values and objectives before the empirical analyses of the possible policies; formulation of policies is made with the help of means-end analysis that evaluates every factor important to the policy; and theory is always considered during the analysis (1959, p. 81). As to the Branch method, Lindblom stresses its features that include combining the selection of goals and empirical analysis, and exclusion or limitation of the means-end analysis that does not approach possible outcomes and alternative policies; the theory is also neglected (1959, p. 81). Lindblom admits that it might appear to be easier to clarify the values first, but this method does not apply to social issues that need a thorough examination (1959, p. 82).
Opinions of citizens, politicians, congressmen, and others may be so different that none of the proposed values will apply here. The method has its faults, like neglecting all relevant values, or ignoring an applicable policy because it does not emerge from the analysis; nevertheless, Lindblom finds successive comparison a successful tool for policy formulation when approaching complex social issues (1959, p. 88). Thus, although the method of successive comparisons might not be as popular as the rational-comprehensive approach, it is still better in dealing with complex social problems and issues.
Another model of decision making approaches American federalism and the problems it might evoke in the formation and application of public policies. The model was developed by Craig Volden and presented in his article Intergovernmental Political Competition in American Federalism. Policymakers have to consider providing goods and services at two levels: state and national (Volden, 2005, p. 328).
To provide goods and services, the state or federal government needs to raise taxes, most likely cost-effectively; the demands of the public and states’ ability to moderate the taxes can be different, so politicians, to achieve good public policy, must evaluate both the credit they will get for providing the goods and the blame for raising the taxes (Volden, 2005, p. 328).
Public spending is increasing even as programs cost less, while politicians can raise taxes more efficiently than before, and “public demands for spending increase” (Volden, 2005, p. 328). In this model, the states and the national governments are compared, and depending on their efficiency, the state or national assignment is chosen (Volden, 2005, p. 338). This model is thus more focused on the federalism of the United States and what benefits might be derived from it.
Challenges in Public Policy
The problem of bureaucracy is not new in studies of public policy; bureaucracy is often a source of various inconveniences and can disrupt work efficiency and hinder the development of various social programs and institutions. Perhaps not a new view, but certainly an uncommon one is presented in the article The Bureaucracy Problem by James Wilson, where he describes different problems public policy has to face. If a program fails, the members of the organization are accused of lacking professionalism (Wilson, 1967, p. 6).
The author points out that the problem of any hierarchical organization, and public policy as well, is the lack of talented professionals who can solve problems efficiently; plus, notes Wilson, “some government functions [simply] cannot… be done well” (1967, p. 6). He provides an example with foreign offices that, in his opinion, do not function correctly, because it is impossible to invent a policy that would respect all matters of all countries (Wilson, 1967, p. 6). This lack of professionally trained people is the reason some issues cannot be addressed because it is impossible to teach a newcomer in a short period, and a professional is already employed and well-paid (Wilson, 1967, p. 7).
Wilson argues that the lack of talent is acceptable in any other institution except the government; so the next time a bill is passed, it is better to warn the Congress about the mentioned problem (1967, p. 8). The resolution, according to Wilson, is understanding “what we are trying to accomplish”: clearly stated objectives, well-defined goals, and professional capital management could improve implementation of public policy (1967, p. 8). Thus, the problem of bureaucracy in administration may not be solved quickly, but with a certain clarity and stated goals, it can be moderated.
The Study of Public Policy and Administration
To understand the functions and goals of public policy and administration as well as their advantages and disadvantages, and review them from a scientific point of view, two articles will be considered: The Study of Administration by Woodrow Wilson and The Policy Sciences Emerge: To Nurture and Structure a Discipline by Garry D. Brewer. Woodrow Wilson, who some years after writing the article considered here would become the President of the United States, examines the history of establishing an administration in the United States; he notes that the problems of administrations were getting more and more complex in past centuries and had reached a peak in “this” one (the nineteenth century) (1887, p. 201).
Wilson states that the science of administration was invented in Europe, examines administrations in Europe (e.g., France), and compares them to England and the United States: “in Europe… the government has long been a monopoly… in England or the United States… the government has long been a common franchise” (1887, p. 202). He continues, stating that the history of England and America was not of administrative development, but law-making and criticism of policies, so the study of administration is needed to develop a system that would be in the right accordance with the Constitution (Wilson, 1887, p. 206).
Wilson also draws the reader’s attention to the fact that administration, although it might be a part of political life, does not belong to politics per se (1887, p. 210). To establish a good administration, as Wilson calls it, this administration has to be attentive to public opinion (1887, p. 217). If Wilson’s way of thinking might appear vaguely relatable to modern-day public policy (although Wilson has precisely illustrated the beginning of the establishment of administration), Brewer addresses several topics of current interest.
Brewer regards genetics, women’s rights, higher education, nuclear war, and other topics as of concern to public policy; in his opinion, policy scientists might be of use to policymakers, due to their proficiency in the history and criticism of policymaking (1974, p. 244). Brewer analyzes the sequence of policymaking and divides it into six parts: invention, estimation, selection, implementation, evaluation, and termination (1974, p. 240).
Policy scientists can be of assistance in every aspect; for example, estimation, during which costs and risks are calculated, is based on knowledge about public policy and its previous solutions; evaluation examines previous policies, their advantages and disadvantages, and to what ends these evaluations were directed, and so on; while termination addresses dysfunctional and outmoded policies and what can be learned from them (Brewer, 1974, p. 241). Thus the science of public policy is not a separate entity and could bring more efficiency and benefit to the practice.
The Academic and Practical Aspects of Public Policy
As often happens, something might appear efficient in theory but fail in practice. This statement does not imply that public policy has failed, but simply precedes the problem that public policy often faces: Some aspects of it are impossible to bring to the world. As Woodrow Wilson points out, it is not enough to study administration; it has to be integrated into the governmental processes (1887, p. 2019).
Although Wilson examines administration concerning his century and the political processes thereof, his opinion is generally applicable to the public policy of the modern-day. Wilson asks how one can adjust the French or German administration experience to that of the United States, and keep in mind the distinctions between them (1887, p. 220); we should ask how the modern science of public policy can improve or prevent possible mistakes. Wilson’s question, “how shall… our governments… be so administrated… to the interest of the public officer… and the community?” is still relevant, although it was raised almost 130 years ago (1887, p. 221).
The science of public policy might not be regarded as often as it should, but the theory it provides could leave the pages of books and journals and finally be heard by policymakers. The experience and evidence it has summoned are enough to make public policy at least two times more efficient than it is now. This does not mean that every solution the academics may devise is appropriate for modern public policy, but the latter has suffered some losses exactly because it neglected the theory.
Decision making in public policy, as well as the public policy itself, have been quickly evolving during the past two centuries; modern public policy consists of different complicated steps that help examine a future solution from different angles; however, public policy could benefit more from the theoretical studies that consider its evolution, experiences, wins, and losses.
Brewer, G. D. (1974). The policy sciences emerge: to nurture and structure a discipline. Policy Sciences, 5(3), 239-244.
Lindblom, C. E. (1959). The science of “muddling through”. Public administration review, 19(2), 79-88.
Volden, C. (2005). Intergovernmental political competition in American federalism. American Journal of Political Science, 49(2), 327-342.
Wilson, J. Q. (1967). The bureaucracy problem. The Public Interest, (6)3, 3-9.
Wilson, W. (1887). The study of administration. Political science quarterly, 2(2), 197-222.