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Blaksburg Manifesto

By : brainykey   December 30, 2019

Refounding Public Administration (Wamsley et al., 1990) was a pioneering publication in the field of U.S. public administration. It was one of the early efforts that challenged Herbert Simon’s theory of bounded rationality and the implications of underscoring the study and practice of public administration based largely from the application of New Public Management theories, public choice theory, behavioralism, and logical positivism.

The first chapter in this book, Public Administration and the Governance Process: Shifting the Political Dialogue, is commonly referred to as the Blacksburg Manifesto because its authors, Gary Wamsley, Charles Goodsell, John Rohr, Camilla Stivers, Orion White, and James Wolf, were part of the Center for Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Tech located in Blacksburg. The Manifesto called for a normative approach to the study and practice of public administration and was one of the first major publications in the latter part of the twentieth century that explicitly defended the bureaucracy.

Wamsley and his colleagues made the case that U.S. public administration served as a core institutional component of American government and worked to advance democratic governance. The four themes of the Blacksburg Manifesto complement the aims of the

Constitutional School because each points to the importance of grounding all facets of public administration in the rule of law and democraticconstitutionalism.

  • First, the agency perspective maintains that we should understand the responsibilities of public sector agencies with a fuller appreciation for how they benefit society at large. It also serves to promote and direct the public interest in a manner that emphasizes the historical, institutional, political, and constitutional underpinnings for how public issues and public policies affect the citizenry.
  • Secondly, the Blacksburg perspective emphasizes the public interest, which Wamsley argues is a multi-dimensional approach to solving public problems. It seeks to incorporate a long-range perspective into deliberation on matters affecting public sector governance. This specific method for advancing the public interest attempts to consider all positions in the decision-making process, especially when competing most John Rohr’s (1986) influence on the Blacksburg school of thought was profound.
  • The third theme of the Manifesto relates specifically to Rohr’s argument that the constitutional heritage of the United States legitimates the administrative state in word and deed. Grounding the American administrative state in the constitutional foundations of the nation provides the normative framework that enables the field of public administration to promote democratic governance and in doing so advance the broadest possible public interest (Wamsley et al., 1990). This analysis represents the core of the Constitutional School. It speaks to how the constitutional foundation of the nation provides the foundation to examine, to understand, and to underscore the most central dynamics of the democratic governance process.
  • The final theme of the Manifesto focuses on the role of the public administrator, which is a position that demands the utmost professionalism (Wamsley et al., 1990; Green et al., 1993). Professionalism in public administration underscores the expectation that civil servants be competent in their job responsibilities, service-oriented, able to define the public interest in the broadest possible manner, conserve the nation’s constitutional heritage, and be able to uphold the oath of office (Wamsley et al., 1990; Green et al., 1993; Terry, 2003). These professional expectations help to distinguish public administration from other professions and other forms of administration (Green et al., 1993).

The Constitutional School embraces this framework because of its emphasis on the democratic-constitutional requirements associated with public service and public administration. The Constitutional School works to draw attention for how the democratic-constitutional responsibilities of public sector governance work to differentiate the sectors from each other.

Also Read: Contribution of administrative thinkers 

This effort runs deep within the public administration literature to include Graham Allison’s (1979) explanation for why public and private management are alike in all the unimportant respects; Ronald Moe’s (1987) analysis regarding the limits of privatization; and Larry Terry’s (2005) argument for how the application of private sector norms and values work to thin public administrative institutions and subsequently create a hollow state incapable of governing according to constitutional expectations. Like Larry Terry, I am a product of the Blacksburg school of thought.

John Rohr was my major professor and dissertation chair and Gary Wamsley served as one of my most trusted academic and professional advisors throughout my time at Virginia Tech.

One of the most profound lessons of my graduate education was Wamsley’s explanation regarding the contemporary relevance of the Manifesto.

The field, according to Wamsley, is constantly changing because the needs of the citizenry are always shifting. The Refounding effort, perhaps more than any other piece of literature written since Dwight Waldo’s (1948) classic treatise The Administrative State, recognizes this reality.

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