This then brings us back to the crisis in public administration as a field. After a period of innovation and creativity driven by the economists, the field seems to have lost its way again. Since the heyday of principal-agent theory (which was largely driven by scholars outside traditional public administration) there has been no dominant approach to public sector reform generated by administrative scholars. Public administration programs have either disappeared or have been folded into public policy programs, with increasing focus on policy analysis rather than practical skill-building. The field has relatively little interchange with the other discipline that provides training for government, administrative law, and it is increasingly hard to get tenure as a public administration scholar. There is no clear path from a public administration school to a job in the Federal government.
One individual who is trying to push against this tide is former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who established the Volcker Alliance to push back against these trends. Volcker, whose background is in public administration, likes to tell the story of a conversation with a very prominent Princeton economist. Volcker lamented the decline of teaching in public administration, to which the economist replied, “But public administration isn’t even a field!” Volcker went on to point out that some prominent public administration scholars have gone on to great prominence, even rising to be presidents of major universities. The economist professed not to believe this, and wanted an example. The example Volcker gave was Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton University.