Public administration is like any other administration which is carried out in public interest. Before we dwell deeper into understanding public administration it would be beneficial to try and see how different authors have tried to define what administration is.
Marx defines administration as - Administration is determined action taken in pursuit of a conscious purpose. It is the systematic ordering of affairs and the calculated use of resources aimed at making those happen which one wants to happen.
Frederic k Lane defines administration as organizing and maintaining human and fiscal resources to attain a groups goals.
A complete definition for public administration however is difficult to arrive at due to the sheer number of tasks that fall under it. Some academicians argue that all the government related work falls into this category while other choose to argue that only the executive aspect of government functioning comprises of public administration.
We can also see how different authors have defined public administration:
According to L D White, Public administration consists of all those operations having for their purpose the fulfillment or enforcement of public policy. On the other hand as per Woodrow Wilson public administration is a detailed and systematic application of law. One can also say that public administration is nothing but the policies, practices, rules and regulation etc, in action.
Now can public administration be divorced from social and political systems; certainly not and therefore emerged another definition provided by F A Nigro who argues that public administration is essentially a cooperative group effort in public setting. Secondly, it covers all the three branches of government machinery, the executive, the legislative and the judicial. He further added that since public administration plays a crucial role in formulation of policies therefore it is a part of the political process as well (for e.g. Bills and Acts). Negro also said that public administration is different from private administration in numerous ways and that it interacts with various private groups and individuals in providing services to the community.
Also, on the nature of public administration there have been two popular views, one being the Integral view and the other one is the Managerial view. The Integral view is all encompassing and consists of sum total of all managerial, clerical, technical and manual activities and employees form all levels. This view was endorsed by L D White and Dimock. It may differ from one agency to another depending on their sphere of work.
On the other hand the Managerial view, as the name suggests says that the public administration involves only the managerial activities. This view was supported by Simon, Smithburg, Thompson and Luther Gulick.
After having said that; the word administration itself is highly contextual, and may vary in meaning and definition from one organization to another.
So if you want to understand it from the context and setting of an organization, it can be roughly explained that; the top leadership or the Board decides the vision, mission, short and long term goals and the business unit heads then draw out action plans and create or reform processes, allot responsibilities, direct planning, get people on board and start working towards achieving those set goals as per defined guidelines. So, the Board can be the Government and the Business Unit Heads and their teams can be the public administrators who are the implementers and actually the people who run the show.
In the next section we shall make an effort to understand whether public and private administrations are similar, different or are there any overlaps between the two.