The field of public administration has raised debates among scholars and practitioners with regard to efficiency. Some view efficiency in public administration from the perspective of balanced budgets in the creation of public value, while others regard efficiency as inclusive of equity, citizenship, and consideration of the public. The disagreements in the definition of efficiency within the context of public administration stem from the inclusion of the Downs and Larkey’s phrase managerial efficiency, and Denhardt calls it technical rationality (qtd. in Grandy 1115). Hence, there is the need to explain the concept of efficiency in public administration in a more logic manner.
Most of the scholars have challenged the preeminence of efficiency; especially with regard to the separation of politics and public administration. According to Grandy, “That separation was a defining feature of the first phase of professional administration” (2009). In addition, the critics of efficiency in public administration are also against the separation of means from ends, as they are comparative to ends. They argue that efficiency and economy as business aims are superior to any other objectives.
The other controversy in efficiency and public administration emanates from its association with the private practice in business. The opponents posit “Business, in a competitive environment, must be primarily concerned with the maximizing profit” (Grandy, 2009). It implies that the business perspective of viewing efficiency must always be concerned with mechanisms of raising business returns. Since the objective of public administration is not to make a profit, the opponents of efficiency argue that it is inappropriate to apply its ideals in public administration.
Finally, the other issue raising controversy in efficiency stems from the New Public Management (NPM) initiative that seeks to reinvent government movements. In the past decades, public administrators have rejected efficiency as criteria for public actions. In New Zealand and the United States, the political regimes have tried to reinvent efforts to bring efficiency back to the public domain. To respond to the reinvention, people in the public administration have raised skepticism in the new call for efficiency.
The opposition to the ideals of the public administration’s efficiency occurs due to the narrow perspective given to its understanding. According to Grandy, “Being efficient suggests selecting one or at most a handful of values at the core of public agencies” (2009). Pareto efficiency can be adopted together with other managerial actions to improve efficiency of public administration as research has proved that there is a number of public values whose combinations are unswerving regarding the Pareto criteria. Manager of public institutions have the opportunity to make decisions that may violate the Pareto logic; hence, they may consider some legitimate values in favor of others. Grandy states that “efficiency is defined in terms of trade-offs among values: administrators have acted efficiency if it is not possible to advance any of society’s legitimate values without accepting a reduction in another” (2009).
Pareto logic of efficiency in the public administration envisions the functions of public administrators from a different angle of the NPM. For efficiency of the public institutions, there ought to be understanding of common values on which administrators make decisions. The workforce must be engaged in the decision-making process as they do the final implementation of the suggested actions. The values stated above may be popular and desirable, but implementation of the values remains trivial. In this regard, Grandy suggests that the multifaceted nature of public administration calls for cost benefit analysis of the implementing the changes (2009). Pareto efficiency can add value to public administration. Therefore, managers must not bear the risk of being referred to as inefficient when they have certain values to implement. The Pareto efficiency provisions require that they implement the values as long as they would create efficiency in public administration.