Whither Power in Public Administration? Attainment, Dissipation, and Loss

Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
75th Anniversary
Robert F. Durant is professor emeritus
of public administration and policy at
American University. He is recipient of
the 2012 Dwight Waldo Award from the
American Society for Public Administration
and the 2013 John Gaus Award and
Lectureship from the American Political
Science Association. His latest book
is Why Public Service Matters:
Public Managers, Public Policy, and
Democracy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
E-mail: rfdurant@gmail.com
206 Public Administration Review • March | April 2015
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 2, pp. 206–218. © 2015 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12332.
Robert F. Durant
American University
overreach by federal agencies in the administrative
state—especially regulatory agencies—as a threat to
the U.S. Constitution (Grisinger 2012).
is article analyzes how well several of Long’s major
arguments in “Power and Administration” have stood
the test of time or have been realized, and why. It
begins by placing the themes of Long’s classic within
the larger context of his scholarship.  e article then
analyzes several of his major arguments in light of
subsequent research in public administration, public
management, political science, and public policy.
It concludes by assessing the implications of this
analysis for future research
and theory building in public
is analysis reveals a compli-
cated legacy for Long’s article.
To borrow his prose, the arti-
cle’s legacy is one of attainment
(some support), dissipation
(opportunities not taken), and
loss (of a complete picture of
the budgeting of power that
Whither Power in Public Administration?
Attainment, Dissipation, and Loss
Editor’s Note: In this 75th anniversary essay, Robert Durant, the 2012 Dwight Waldo Award winner,
ref‌l ects about Norton Long’s iconic 1949 article, “Power and Administration.”  e central theme of
Durant’s essay is Long’s interest in the budgeting of power, that is, how agencies gain, maintain, increase,
or lose power. Durant examines what we have learned about the budgeting of power and what still needs
to be discovered to realize Long’s aspirations for a “realistic science of administration.
Abstract: Norton Long’s 1949 essay, “Power and Administration,” has a complicated legacy. First, analysis reveals
both support for and important ref‌i nements of Long’s arguments since the article’s publication. Second, Long’s claim
has proven problematic that competition among agencies for power would bring more coordination and a cross-agency
sense of purpose to the federal government.  ird, the bureaucratic pluralism that he explained and defended produced
special interest biases that were of‌f -putting to large segments of citizens and thus helped create an unsupportive politi-
cal environment for needed capacity building in the federal government. Fourth, by not considering how institutions
“coevolve,” Long failed to warn that “horizontal power” building by individual agencies would provoke ef‌f orts by
elected of‌f‌i cials to enhance their control over bureaucracy in ways that, over time, diminished their collective sources of
power. Finally, much remains to be done before what Long called a “realistic science of administration” incorporating
the “budgeting of power” exists in public administration.
e jolt that Long sparked in
“Power and Administration
was a full-throated, unapolo-
getic, and constitutionally
grounded rationale and justi-
f‌i cation of the pursuit of inde-
pendent power bases by federal
One of the most memorable phrases ever
written in American public administra-
tion appears in Norton Long’s classic
Public Administration Review (PAR) essay, “Power
and Administration” (1949). Long wrote that “the
lifeblood of administration is power. Its attain-
ment, maintenance, increase, dissipation, and loss
are subjects the practitioner and student [of admin-
istration] can ill af‌f ord to neglect” (257). Long, of
course, was part of a pantheon of scholars—Dwight
Waldo, Herbert Simon, Paul Appleby, and Robert
Dahl—who returned to academia after stints at vary-
ing levels of government to jolt the administrative
orthodoxy of their day.  e jolt
that Long sparked in “Power
and Administration” was a
full-throated, unapologetic, and
constitutionally grounded ratio-
nale and justif‌i cation of the pur-
suit of independent power bases
by federal agencies. Moreover, it
came at a time when a grow-
ing chorus of conservatives in
both political parties saw, since
the New Deal, constitutional

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