A Day in the Life of a Public Administrator

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The separation of powers in the Constitution established firm rules about the American political system. Congress and legislators write the laws; the executive branch, led by the president, enforces the laws; and the courts interpret the laws. What the Founders never anticipated was the growth in the size and scope of federal, state and local governments. Now a fourth group plays a critical role in the operation of the government: public administrators.

Public administrators in a boardroom

What is a Public Administrator?

Public administrators are the front line employees and public servants who ensure government rules and policies have the desired effect on the community. Because of the scope of the government, and the various levels available, public administrators may choose to work in almost any aspect of government or society that they choose. The diversity of opportunities includes everything from:

  • Working outdoors with the National Parks service
  • Analyzing data concerning climate change and what impact, if any, human action has on the phenomenon
  • Securing healthy food and clean drinking water, both in the United States and abroad
  • Fighting terrorism through safety protocols, training and screening procedures
  • Serving low income communities in public clinics or public assistance programs
  • Revitalizing economically challenged communities

The range of choices is important for public administrators, because passion for the mission of the agency or organization is a key component of both job satisfaction and employee morale in the public service sector.

What do Public Administrators do?

The tasks of an administrator vary significantly based on the person’s experience and role within an agency. Brand new administrators typically handle the day-to-day operations of the agency. These fresh faced public servants channel their energy for the cause into improving the lives of the people in the community, or addressing the questions the agency was designed to answer. Entry level employees spend most of their time dealing directly with the public, and may spend a large percentage of their workday conducting field reports or interviews outside of the office.

Experienced public administrators begin to move out of operations and into management and compliance positions. Government agencies are beholden to the voters, and agencies are held accountable for every action taken and every penny spent. Mid-level public administrators coordinate reports that detail the activities of the agency and provide interviews to news outlets seeking public information. Public administrators with several years of experience also have options in the private sector, especially for administrators with experience in financial or environmental regulation. Private companies often hire former public servants to oversee compliance departments in an effort to avoid fines and government audits.

Another type of public administration are those who shape policy and help write laws. Few of these positions are political appointments, so the people holding these positions tend to have extensive experience in a particular field of government service. Public administrators at this level give testimony before Congress or state legislatures; present research studies to the public; and manage hundreds, sometimes thousands, of employees.

Education, Salary and Outlook

The usual path into public administration involves earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration or political science, followed by a master’s of public administration (MPA.) Some areas of public administration have different career requirements. For instance, people interested in entering a field related to health care may choose to earn an MHA, master’s of health administration in a joint program, while those interested in financial regulation may choose a master’s in financial fraud investigation or economics to supplement their MPA studies.

Because public administrators work in the public sector, their salaries may be lower than those of people working in similar positions in the private sector. The fields with the lowest salaries involve community or social service, with a median salary of $63,000, while the highest salaries are earned by those in public health services, at a median salary of $94,500.

Though the salaries appear low, public administrators receive an unprecedented benefits package. Government pension and retirement options often outperform private 401(k) and IRA savings accounts, and government employees may enroll in very robust health insurance programs. In addition, some federal student loans are eligible for forgiveness and reduced payment by those who work in the public sector. Finally, public administrators are able to choose a segment of society or a cause about which they are passionate, and dedicate their lives to improving that aspect of society. Public administrators report high levels of job satisfaction and personal fulfillment, both attributable to the positive impact the administrators have on their communities.

State and federal governments are some of the most stable employers on the planet, and the need for public administrators is unlikely to decline in the near future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates job growth for public administrators to continue at around 15 percent for the next decade, with faster growth in segments like environmental regulation and health care services.

Public administrators are the people who make the government run on a daily basis, and they are responsible for providing needed services to the community. With growing federal, state and local bureaucracies, there is certain to be demand for public administrators for decades to come.

Learn More

Our online Master of Public Administration at Ohio University can help you build the skills to address public needs in effective, efficient, and imaginative ways. We want you to take the big ideas in your head and put them into action by helping you develop as a project manager, communicator, policy analyst, and financial mind. When you have an expert understanding of public administration and the professional tools to back it up, you can lead a career of consequence for your constituents.


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