FROM THE POSTWAR PERIOD TO THE 1960S The Role of Federal Bureaucracy between Administrative Reorganization and Development of the Welfare State

The New Postwar Order. A Theoretical Perspective

Soon after the end of World War II, the New Dealers tried to convince the public that their wartime sacrifices were for the sake of a new social order. President Roosevelt outlined the postwar agenda of modern liberalism in his 1944 State of the Union, where he explained that rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution, “our rights to life and liberty,” had become “inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, “a second Bill of Rights” was needed to provide economic security. Among the new economic rights were the right to a job, the right to adequate farm prices, the right to a decent home, and the right to a good education. The task of the New Deal administrative state was to secure these rights. These new “economic rights,” added to the ones of the Founders, were entitlements that the government would provide to every American citizen.1

In this context of expanded federal governmental management, the political scientist Dwight Waldo outlined the vision of the new order in his 1948 book, The Administrative State. He described the philosophy and values behind what he called “the heavenly city of the twentieth-century administrators.” The last vestiges of authority and religion had disappeared from politics. Planning had become the new faith.

Once it is realized that there is no natural harmony of nature, no divine or other purpose hidden beneath the flux and chaos of present planlessness, it becomes immoral to let poverty, ignorance, pestilence, and war continue if they can be obliterated by a plan.

Planning was based on scientific naturalism or materialism; it viewed human happiness in hedonistic terms, as Waldo argued, “The Good Life is chiefly a matter of the possession or employment of tangible things.” The civil servants’ job was to provide as many of these things to as many people as possible. The equal distribution of material goods was the chief ingredient of their sense of justice. Liberty and democracy had to support equality and be administered for its sake. Public administration, in Waldo’s words, expected to “engineer for Heaven an earthly locus.”2

At the administrative level, the case for the “unitary executive” made by the Brownlow Report of 1937, which argued for a centralization of presidential control over the bureaucracy, remained the dominant stream of administrative thought up to the 1960s. Public administration was still seen as “the management of men and materials in the accomplishment of the purposes of the state.”3 In White’s view, the state was “an important means by which the program of social amelioration is effected.” “In every direction,” he noted, “the task of the modern state is enlarging” and “the range of public administration is being extended.”4 For Luther Gulick, administrative organization was about translating “the central purpose or objective of an enterprise ... into reality.”5 It was about

the development ofintelligent singleness of purpose in the minds and wills of those who are working together as a group, so that each worker will of his own accord fit his task into the whole with skill and enthusiasm.6

Gulick argued that this sense of a “singleness of purpose” should extend far beyond the walls of government agencies and into the minds of the citizenry and its political leadership. As he observed when reflecting on the lessons learned from World War II,

truly effective action in administration arises from singleness of purpose and clarity of policy, ardently believed in both by the leaders and by the public in all parts of the country and in all strata of society.... When a nation drives forward with unity of purpose, then administration can accomplish the impossible.7

Gulick clearly believed that an increasingly broad range of human action in communities should be brought perhaps slowly, but inevitably, under the domain of some type of conscious and planned coordination. He saw no limits to the effort mankind is prepared to make to render life more secure and abundant through socially enforced coordination, and no need to accept the view that there are fixed limits of coordination beyond which mankind can never go.8 These writers also voiced a deeply held faith in the potential of social science to direct public policy and administration. To achieve an efficient coordination and planning, it was necessary to design a more managerial, technocratic, and scientific system of government.

In this vein, Herbert Simon set the tone for what then become the thought of postwar mainstream public administration, as well as the emerging new policy sciences, when he wrote that the central concern for administrative theory should be “the rationality of decisions—that is their appropriateness for the accomplishment of specified goals.”9 For him, it is simply a particular type of “organization,” whose task is “to bring the organizational components of its parts ... into conformity with the objectives of the organization as a whole.”10 Furthermore, public administrators, like business administrators, are to “take as their ethical premises the objectives that have been set for the organization.”11

From his perspective, a practical science of administration should consist of “those propositions as to how men would behave if they wished their activity to result in the greatest attainment of administrative objectives with scarce means,”12 and efficiency should be “a guiding criterion in administrative decision-making.”13 A public administrator, for Simon, needs “to maximize the attainment of the governmental objectives ... by efficient employment of the limited resources ... available to him.”14 Indeed, for Simon, organizations are “fundamental ... to the achievement of human rationality in any broad sense,” and “the rational individual is, and must be, an organized and institutionalized individual.”1

Sheldon Wolin has observed, from the perspective of Simon and like-minded theorists, how organization becomes “the grand device for transforming human irrationalities into rational behavior.”16 The continuing power of Simon’s vision within the field of public administration has manifested itself in a variety of ways. In the long run, it can be seen in the preoccupation of scholars over the 1950s and 1960s with a seemingly endless variety of rationalist decisionmaking techniques such as program budgeting, management by objectives, policy analysis, systems analysis, management science, and strategic planning.

This set of ideas and theories had a remarkable impact on the minds of the administrative reformers of the 1940s and the 1950s, who tried to put order, to rationalize, and to complete the achievements of the administrative state reached during the New Deal and World War II.

 
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