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Paula D. Gordon's Doctoral Dissertation “Public Administration in the Public Interest”

“Public Administration in the Public Interest” features a vision of what public service, public administration, and government can be at their best, while underscoring the values and vision of the Founding Fathers. The paradigm of public administration and governance presented is in part in response to Dwight Waldo’s statements in his 1969 article entitled “Public Administration and Change: Terra Paene Incognita.” (Journal of Comparative Administration 1 (May 1969):94-113.) That article concerned the absence of a philosophy of change, purpose, or direction in public administration. The paradigm is also in response to Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine (London: Hutchison & Co. LTD., 1967.) 

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"What if Public Administration Had a Purpose?”

A July 25, 2014 Commentary by Mary R. Hamilton, Ph.D.
Paula D. Gordon’s Dissertation on “Public Administration in the Public Interest”,
(PA Times Online, A Publication of the American Society for Public Administration 2014-07-23_Mary_Hamilton_July_2014_PAT_Online_Column_Final_Edition.docx)

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“Values in Public Administration and Governance in America”

Published December 29, 2018, by the American Center for Democracy” at:


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"The Need to Establish the Purpose of Government"

The article linked here is based on a presentation given by Dr. Gordon at the National Press Club on September 17, 2007, and a chapter in a book she wrote in the book edited by Cal Clark and Don-Terry Veal entitled Advancing Excellence and Public Trust in Government, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2011.

……I recall that at the time the first “Reinventing Government Report” came out, I was working as the Director of Special Projects at the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR). John Kincaid served as the Executive Director of the Commission at the time. The authors of the “Reinventing Government Report” initially briefed members of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). I had accompanied John Kincaid, a NAPA Fellow to the meeting. After the authors had discussed their findings and recommendations, the NAPA Fellows in attendance were invited to ask questions and make comments. John Kincaid asked what I thought was a most striking question. He asked the following question: “What do the results of (the Reinventing Government Report) have to do with the mission of government?”

David Osborne, the person who was a key author of the report admitted (and I thought did so very graciously and humbly) that the authors of the report had not really dealt with that issue, but that he anticipated that they would address the question of the mission of government as their work continued. Well, I think that was a major oversight….
Dwight Waldo, a luminary in the field of public administration, both a friend and influence in my life, wrote extensively on this subject. He and Herbert Simon in fact had a falling out in the 1950s and 1960s concerning the nature of public administration and the purpose of government. While Simon emphasized the matters of process, Waldo argued that the purpose of the field of public administration and government had been overlooked. He had written a famous article in the 1960s entitled “Public Administration and Change: Terra Paene Incognita.” The “little-known territory” he spoke of was the purpose of government and where it should be going. Waldo argued that the field of public administration had no underlying philosophy of change. In effect, there was a metaphysical nihilism underlying the efforts of those contributing to the field.

I believe that we need to achieve a renewed consensus about the direction of change in public administration and government should be before we talk about the need for transparency in government. We need to return to the values of America’s founders, as embodied in the Preamble to the Constitution. What this suggests to me is that we need to clarify what we mean when we talk about acting in the public interest. To me acting in the public interest is acting in such a way as to advance the values of life, health, and freedom and that does so in a way that maximizes and respects the humanity of all concerned. We need to recognize that we are living in a time of chaos and turbulent change, where measurement and focus on process do not really help, since by the time that we have measured something, the entire situation has changed. What good is focusing on the process if we have no idea of the values or purposes that the process is intended or apt to serve? We should be doing what we had done with the Marshall Plan for reconstructing Europe after World War II. Then, we focused on the nature and scope of a huge problem and took the action that needed to be taken based on our understanding, experience, intelligence, ingenuity, and skills. That is what we should be doing now. We need to adopt more of a practical strategy that focuses on doing what we know to be right and what our experience and understanding help us to see is the right course of action. I believe that instead of focusing primarily on transparency, we need to address the greater challenge facing America, the need to renew our understanding of the very mission and purpose that drove the efforts of the Founders and that should still be driving our efforts today.


Reference: Dwight Waldo (1969). “Public Administration and Change: Terra Paene Incognita.” Journal of Comparative Administration 1 (May 1969):94-113.


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A Review Article by Paula D. Gordon, Ph.D on


“Common Sense, Law, and Public Administration: A Review of Philip K. Howard’s Book The Death of Common Sense ~ How Law is Suffocating America and a Discussion of Related Developments, Themes, and Issues in American Public Administration

Note: This review was largely written when Philip Howard’s book was first published. A new summary statement has been added at the end of the article. The book was reprised with a new Afterword on May 3, 2011. See Philip K. Howard, The Death of Common Sense ~ How Law is Suffocating America (New York: Random House, 1995 and trade paperback 2011).