|Sample Article Summaries for PSCI 501,
PSCI 503, PSCI 505, and
This page contains sample article summaries from past classes. Three summaries are provided here. The first summary appears on Cornell University's website. Other samples are from previous classes.
Moe, Ronald C. 1987. "Exploring the Limits of Privatization." Public Administration Review 47 (Nov/Dec): 453-460.
This article speaks to the much-ignored subject of legality and privatization. Moe's essay suggests the passivity of public administration in raising critical questions, respecting the limits of privatization, originated in the reality that public administration has largely forsaken its intellectual roots which are embedded in public law, not economics or the social sciences.
Moe argues that privatization proponents see public and private sectors as being alike. They are concerned with which sector can do the work most efficiently and don't bother with legal or organizational structure questions. Public and private sectors are alike in the nonessentials, but differ in the essentials. A line must be drawn between public and private and public law provides that line.
In 1819 the Supreme Courts decision on McCulloch v. Maryland taught us that a sovereign cannot be taxed by a subordinate unit since to do so would permit another body to determine the fate of the sovereign. The court reasoned if the government owned any part of an entity, the entire body became an instrumentality of the government. This ruling is significant because political actors, both executive and legislative, are assigning functions with a public character largely without criteria and with consequences that are expensive to both the public and private sectors. Such was the case with the Federal Assets Disposition Association who seeks to be private in its direction and interests but public in its rights and privileges.
The most important characteristic that separates public and private is sovereignty. Sovereign attributes include:
This issue of sovereignty is important, because private firms that contracted by the government may fall into a legal limbo. Many questions arise, for example:
There are additional factors to be considered. Issues of accountability, public safety, national security, and corruption in privatization need to be discussed.
Article: "The Life Cycles of Bureaus" (pg. 26-274)
Author: Anthony Downs
Date of Article: 1967
“The Life Cycle of Bureaus” examines the genesis, growth, and death of bureaus. It looks at the ways bureaus come into being, the dynamics of their growth, and finally the deaths of bureaus.
Bureaus come into being one of four ways: to implement the ideas of a charismatic leader, to carry out a specific function for which a group perceives a need, split from an existing bureaucracy, or through an entrepreneurial spirit to implement an entirely new policy. In the beginning, bureaus share three commonalities. They are initially dominated by advocates or zealots, they undergo an early phase of rapid growth, and they must immediately seek sources of external support for survival and autonomy.
Once they have established autonomy, growth dynamics come into play. There is dominance, which means the traits of the dominant group are often present in the character and behavior of the bureau itself. The growth accelerator effect is based on the idea that growth begets growth and the more the agency does, the more it will be able to do and the larger it will become. This is contrasted by the “brakes on acceleration” dynamic. Competition, the challenge of being a constant high performer, and conflicts among climbing members of the bureau all can halt a bureau’s growth. A related, but not completely similar dynamic is the decelerator effect. If following the expression “what goes up must come down” this is the down side to a bureau’s growth. This dynamic is not as stunting as the brakes, though. Even when deceleration is present, it’s still possible for an organization to grow out of this phase. Another dynamic is qualitative growth. This occurs when quality increases, but the size of the organization does not
After explaining the dynamics of growth in an organization, Downs explains why these bureaus seek expansion. They include: to attract and retain the most capable personnel, to provide leaders with increased power, to reduce internal conflicts, to improve the quality of performance, and to expend the resources they possess.
As the organization grows and ages, changes occur. They develop more formalized rules, which assist in improving the performance for situations they’ve already encounter. They can also cause goal displacement and increase the bureau’s structural complexity. This causes older bureaus to become far more stable and inflexible than new bureaus. Other changes include an increased number of administrative officials, an increase in the number of functions carried out, and mechanized production jobs. These effects are consistent with the Law of Increasing Conservatism, which states: “All organizations tend to become more conservative as they get older, unless they experience periods of very rapid growth or internal turnover.”
Bureaus eventually reach a growth plateau, and some even outlive their purpose. Unlike other organizations, though, bureaus don’t always die when their purpose does. Sometimes they are saved by shifting functions to take on something more viable. Other times their clients advocate for their continued existence, their continued existence is not opposed, or size alone keeps them alive.
It is necessary for public administrators to understand the life cycles of bureaus whether they are in charge of that bureau or they are an external observer. It is important to be aware of how new bureaus are formed, the stages they go through, and the fact that sometimes obsolete bureaus still exist. This knowledge can help an administrator found and grow a new bureau, better understand an existing bureau, or find a way to make a useless bureau more viable.
All public administrators must be familiar with the ins and outs of bureaus. Downs’ article presents an excellent insight into the life cycle of bureaus, which greatly contributes to one’s understanding of bureaucratic operations.
Article: "Street-Level Bureaucracy: The Critical Role of Street-Level Bureaucrats" (pg. 401-408)
Author: Michael Lipsky
Date of Article: 1980
“Street-Level Bureaucracy: The Critical Role of Street-Level Bureaucrats” examines the role of front-line public employees in the bureaucracy. Street-level bureaucrats are those individuals who interact directly with citizens. There are many street-level bureaucrats in public service agencies such as welfare offices. In fact, it seems that the poorer people are, the more street-level bureaucrats affect them.
Since street-level bureaucrats have such a great deal of interaction with the public, they are often the focus of public controversy. Their decisions appear to be very personal, as they are directed toward people and their attitudes are obvious. Because of this personalization of bureaucracy, street-level bureaucrats also provide hope for citizens to receive fair and effective treatment, as citizens believe they can reason with these individuals, even if the rest of the bureaucracy is out of reach. In reality, street-level bureaucrats are limited to how responsive they may be. Protocol restricts their abilities to treat things on a case-by-case basis.
The relevance of this article is that it assists readers in determining how the public perceives street-level bureaucrats both individually and collectively. These bureaucrats are considered to be individually responsible for their decisions, but as part of the bureaucracy they are only able to do so much. Understanding the public’s view of street-level bureaucrats can help these bureaucrats adopt more of a service culture in their work, as they are often seen as the face of the public service agency where they are employed. The article also provides good insight into the scope and substance of public services where street-level bureaucrats are frequently employed. This information is important for anyone working at any level of the bureaucracy as it reminds us of the face the public sees as being the bureaucracy. This helps us to make sure we are either enabling street-level bureaucrats to put their best face forward, or if we are street-level bureaucrats, to know how the public perceives us.