Waldo in the Light of Austerity and Federal Debt Crisis

Dwight Waldo wrote The Enterprise of Public Administration in 1979 looking back on a long and fruitful academic career, but also as a reflection about the future for public administration. Can a 30 year old book still be relevant? You bet.

Today, the public sector is increasingly facing fiscal challenges. Federal, state, and local governments throughout the country have major budget deficits followed by austerity measures that undermine the ability to deliver the good life of the future. In this day and age rereading Dwight Waldo’s The Enterprise of Public Administration is an intellectual exercise worth pursuing. Several of Dwight Waldo’s comments have been accurate and many of today’s issue–debt crisis, e-government, trust in government, and confidence in the future of the welfare systems–are discussed.

In the United States, modern societies are established on a foundation of economic growth, abundance, and consensus, but a new paradigm of scarcity, decay, and conflict is increasing pressure on public administration. This is a radical shift that Waldo foresaw.

Waldo raised the question that if the central glue that holds society together is the expectation of more, what does that lead to? Waldo meant that if we build our society around a government that always delivers more services, benefits, and progress, what would happen if there were less in the future? Today, facing a large federal debt and an unprecedented federal deficit, we might have arrived at the point Waldo described when we no longer can promise more.


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Pat Fiorenza

We read a lot of Dwight Waldo in grad school – our softball team was also named after him…Two parts of your article stood out for me: “Waldo noted that ruthless pursuit for efficiency must be offset with consideration of public access” and “Waldo considered government to be more complex than business; therefore, it must be managed differently.” Both are absolutely still applicable today – and at the heart of many debates we are having.