A portrait of public servants: empirical evidence from comparisons with other citizens
Brewer, Gene Arnold
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Theories of government bureaucracy and many public policies rest on bold assumptions about the mindset and behavior of public servants. This study investigates bureaucratic stereotypes by comparing public servants with other citizens on four sets of attributes: personality traits, work-related attitudes and behaviors, civic attitudes and behaviors, and political attitudes and behaviors. These comparisons are made on approximately thirty different constructs measured with American National Election Study data. The findings are remarkably consistent. Compared with other citizens, public servants exhibit more positive personality types, and they are more empathic, altruistic, prosocial, and public service-oriented. Moreover, public servants are more active in civic and political affairs. They exhibit an extended sense of responsibility and more closely resemble "model citizens." Most convincing of all is the aggregate pattern of differences between public servants and other citizens. This pattern provides a strong basis for rejecting existing bureaucratic stereotypes and proposing a replacement model that is both theoretically- and empirically-derived. This replacement model has important implications for the theory and practice of public administration. Since public servants differ from other citizens in positive rather than negative ways, concerns about bureaucratic accountability in democratic government may be greatly reduced. Moreover, the findings reported in this study are not consistent with public choice stereotypes, thus revealing a congenital defect of the theory. For these reasons, this study and its implications should kindle considerable interest among scholars and practitioners of public administration, as well as among those who interact frequently with public servants – for example, elected officials, third party service providers, and citizens.
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