Law and professionalism in public management
Ledvinka, Christine Beth
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Scholars label public law as both the foundation of and a constraint on public administration (Rosenbloom 2007, Lee and Rosenbloom 2005, Bertelli, 2005, Moe and Gilmour, 1995). However, gaps remain in research on the influence of public law on public managers. The influence of law is especially relevant at the local government level where growth in responsibilities has been matched by a concurrent decline in resources. Using a 2004 framework proposed by Bowman, West, Berman, and Van Wart, this research evaluates local government managers’ knowledge of law as one element of public administration professionalism. Public administration literature suggests that counties with larger populations employ more professional practices, and that a lack of professionalism leads to human resource practices that expose a county to potential liability (Fox 1993). Because the county manager and the different department heads share responsibility for the human resource function, and effective human resource management is fundamental to success throughout an organization, studying the law related to human resources provides the greatest opportunity to examine the links between professional knowledge of law and county success. Legal constraints on public managers, and the importance of legal expertise as part of public managers’ professional knowledge, raise the fundamental question, what is the level of professional understanding of law among county managers? Further, what are the determinants of public managers’ knowledge of law? These questions are the basis for my dissertation research on law and public managers’ professionalism Employing a survey of 800 county managers and elected and appointed department heads in all 159 Georgia counties, this research assesses the level and determinants of professional knowledge of law among local government administrators. Further, case studies of two counties will offer more detailed information regarding the impact of managers’ legal training. By examining the level of federal employment law expertise among Georgia county managers, this research has the potential to increase our understanding both of how much managers know and how important that knowledge is to organizational performance. This increased knowledge can inform decision on pre-service public administration curriculum as well as on-going training and certification programs.