Distinction between public and private administration

John Gaus, Ludivig Von Mises, Paul H. Appleby, Sir Josia Stamp, Herbert A. Simon, Peter Drucker, etc., in their writings, have made distinction between public and private administration.

According to Simon, the distinction between public and private administration relates mainly to three points:

• Public administration is bureaucratic whereas private administration is business like;

• Public administration is political where as private administration is non-political; and

• Public administration is characterised by red-tape where as private administration is free from it.

Felix A. Nigro has pointed out that government is also different from private organisation, as no private company can equal to it in size and diversity of activities.

According to Sir Josiah Stamp, the four principles, which differentiate public from private administration, are:

Principle of Uniformity: Common and uniform laws and regulations mostly regulate public Administration.

Principle of External Financial Control: the representatives of the people through a legislative body control Government revenues and heads of expenditure.

Principle of Ministerial Responsibility: Public administration is accountable to its political masters and through them to the people.

Principle of marginal Return: The main objective of a business venture is profit, however small it may be. However, most of the objectives of public administration can neither be measured in money terms nor checked by accountancy methods.

According to Paul H. Appleby public administration is different from private administration. He remark, “In broad terms the governmental function and attitude have at least three complementary aspects that go to differentiate government from all other institutions and activities: breadth of scope, impact and consideration; public accountability; political character. No non-governmental institution has the breadth of government.

Appleby notes that the political character of Public Administration differentiates it from private administration. Public Administration is subject to political direction and control. This is the primary distinction between the two. He further argues, “Administration is politics since it must be responsive to the public interest. It is necessary to emphasise the fact that popular political processes, which are the essence of democracy, can only work through governmental organisation, and that all governmental organisations are not merely administrative entities, they are and must be political organisms.”

Appleby reflects further on the distinction between public and private administration in the context of public accountability “Government administration differs from all other administrative work to a degree not even faintly realised outside, by virtue of its public nature, the way in which it is subject to public scrutiny and outcry. This interest often runs to details of administrative action that in private business would never be of concern other then inside the organisation.

According to Appleby private administration cannot claim the breadth of scope, impact and consideration of the public administration. He observes, “The organised government impinges upon and is affected by practically everything that exists or moves in our society. It involves policies and actions of immense complexity. Its fullest possible understanding requires the wisdom of many specialists as will as the key participants in public and private life.

The more important distinguishing features of Public administration may be described under the following sub-heads:

Political Direction: Public administration is political, while private administration is non-political, public administration takes place in a political context.

Absence of profit motive: The absence of profit motive from the Public administration is another feature, which distinguishes it from the private administration. The primary purpose of governmental organisation is to provide services to the people and promote social good.

Prestige: Public administrators who serve in the Government enjoy high status and prestige in comparison to their counterparts in private enterprises especially developing countries.

Public Gaze: All the actions of public administration are exposed to wide public gaze because the public closely watches it. This does not happen in private administration.

Service and Cost: Most governments spend more money than their income or revenues. That is the reason for finding generally a deficit budget that is, expenditure exceeding income. Conversely, private administration income often exceeds expenditure without which they cannot survive.

Legal framework: Public administration operates within a legal framework. It is rule oriented. The responsibilities of public administrators are fixed by a set of constitutional practices, laws and regulations. Government officials are obliged to act within their legal powers and not outside the law.

Consistency of treatment: A government official is required by law to maintain a high degree of consistency in his dealings with the public. He has to observe the principle of equality of treatment in serving the people. It is a legal obligation to not to discriminate against any person.

Public accountability: Public accountability is the hallmark of Public administration in a democracy. Public administration is responsible to the public, though not directly but indirectly through political executive, legislature, judiciary, etc.

Large-scale administration: Public administration is large-scale administration. It is said that almost anything under the sun is directly or indirectly under the domain of public administration. It is by all means larger than any big private concern in terms of size., complexity and diversity of activities.

Monopolistic and Essential Services: In the field of public administration, there is generally a monopoly of the government and it does not generally allow private parties to compete with it. For example, no person or bodies of persons are allowed to establish or perform functions related to public services like national security, foreign relations, law and order, mint and currency, as these are the exclusive fields of the government and thoroughly important for the community and polity to prosper.

Officials remain Anonymous: In public administration, even the most senior officials remain anonymous and their identity is not disclosed. This is so because whatever they do, they do in the name of the government and not in their own name.
Financial meticulousness: Public administration has to be very careful in financial matters because it is working as custodian of people’s money.

Lower level of Efficiency: Efficiency is said to be the cornerstone of any organisation. However, due to varied responsibilities, lack of effective control, less accountability, involvement of a large number of levels and job security of employees, efficiency has not been there in public organisations to the effect desired. When compared to private administration, one finds that the degree of efficiency in public organisations is at a lower level. With profit as the major motive coupled with excessive control and flexibility in personnel administration the level of efficiency in private organisations is much higher.