Matthew Holden, Jr. on Public Administration
Ronald M. Peters, Jr.
Matthew Holden is widely respected among public administration scholars for his insistence upon the relevance of theory to the practice of public administration and for his belief that the "classic" theories in the field have much to offer to contemporary analyses. Holden's writings have modeled the kind of public administration for which he stands. He typically offers a developmental interpretation of administrative theory in relationship to the ongoing evolution of the field of public administration and the development of the administrative state.
Through this effort Holden has become known for three specific theoretical problems that have distinguished his scholarship: field administration, administration and power, and accountability of bureaucracy to legislative institutions. In this issue of Extensions we highlight these problems through three articles. In "The Growth of Field Administration and its Implications for Accountability," Sally Coleman Selden traces the origins of the concept of field administration and its relationship to the problem of democratic accountability. She observes that the concept of field administration and its relationship to accountability has been transformed by recent trends in government, including the intermeshing of public, non-profit, and for-profit provision of public services. This development has produced a continuum in field administration on which public service provision occupies a pole. Theoretical consideration of the role of field administration must adapt to this new reality and scholars must address it.
In "'Official Bureaucratic' Versus 'Political' Value Choices: Max Weber and Talcott Parsons," Larry B. Hill addresses a problem that has been central to Holden's thinking, the relationship of power and administration. In classical administrative theory developed in the early part of the twentieth century, scholars such as Frank Goodnow and Woodrow Wilson celebrated the separation of politics and administration. The intellectual precursor of the politics-administration dichotomy was Max Weber, who first developed a conception of the professional bureaucracy and raised the question of the nature and role of its power. Drawing on the work of celebrated sociologist Talcott Parsons, Hill distinguishes two types of "pattern variables": those embracing bureaucratic values (universalism, achievement, affective neutrality, specificity, and collectivity orientation) and those embracing political values (particularism, ascription, affectivity, diffuseness, and self-orientation). Arguing, in effect, that the relationship between politics and administration is more complex than the Weberian ideal type would have us believe, Hill employs the contrast between the two sets of pattern variables to illustrate the complexity of bureaucratic decision making.
Joel D. Aberbach has specialized in the study of congressional oversight of administration. His 1990 book Keeping a Watchful Eye is widely accepted as a definitive treatment of the topic. In "Improving Oversight: Congress's Endless Task," Aberbach draws on that book to trace important trends in oversight in the 1990s. Noting that observers remain critical of the quality of congressional oversight, Aberbach considers factors that have affected it. In addition to considering institutional developments, he stresses the impact of partisan control of the Congress and in particular the effect of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives that began in 1995. When Democrats are in control, he suggests, the oversight question is usually "how can government do this better?" When Republicans are in control, the question is sometimes "should government be doing this at all?" Thus, the congressional oversight process is inherently and inevitably partisan. In a period of heightened partisanship, is its quality enhanced or eroded?
Together these three articles go to the heart of the concerns that have shaped Matthew Holden's scholarly agenda and theoretical legacy. They demonstrate the continued relevance of the problems that Holden has identified and the utility of the concepts that he has deployed to address them.