Faculty Feature

FIU professor elected president of the American Society for Public Administration for a second time

by Alexandria Rodriguez

Allan Rosenbaum only third person ever elected to a second term, wants group to advocate for a stronger public sector.

FIU Professor Allan Rosenbaum is the third person to ever be elected to a second term as president in the 81-year history of the 8,000 member American Society for Public Administration (ASPA).

Rosenbaum is founding director of the Institute for Public Management and Community Service (IPMCS) and Center for Democracy and Good Governance, both part of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs at FIU.

He is the recipient of numerous awards from major international organizations for his efforts in the building of democratic institutions in both Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe.

Five years ago, Rosenbaum served a one-year term as president of ASPA during which he “began the process of moving the organization in the direction of being a more vigorous advocate for a stronger public sector in the United States.”

Rosenbaum will serve as president-elect for a year, beginning April 2020, and will assume the presidency from 2021-2023, making him the first two-year president of the association. This was made possible by a recent change in the bylaws of the organization.

“When I realized there was going to be a two-year presidency I decided this would provide a little more time than I had the first time I was elected in order to better institutionalize ASPA’s efforts to reach out to other organizations concerned with building a stronger public sector and to help form the coalitions needed to more effectively engage in such efforts,’’ he said.

To do this, Rosenbaum said it will be important to “seek out, for example, foundation funding to support advocacy efforts, including possible publicity campaigns, on the important role of government activity in the building of a strong national economy.”

There is frequent misunderstanding of what it requires to produce strong economic progress for the country, he added.

“It really does require a strong partnership between the public sector and the private sector, and for the last 40 years we have really been ignoring and downgrading the role of the public sector.”

According to Rosenbaum, this stems from a long history in the United States of doubting both the importance of government and its ability to perform effectively. This has characterized the past four decades where it has been politically fashionable to argue, “that taxes are too high, that regulations are too great and that this limits the economy and harms the private sector economy.”

However, Rosenbaum points out that during the period of 1930-1970, the U.S. had the highest tax rates ever in our progressive income tax system, the greatest amount of government regulation, the most activist government in terms of new government initiatives and programs and, as a result, “we had the greatest four decades of economic progress in the history of the country.”

In contrast, from the 1970s to the present, he said, there have been reductions in government regulation, tax rates and the overall role of government in the economy, which has resulted in a shrinking middle class with a declining standard of living, including, for the first time ever, a decline in life span of the average U.S. citizen.

“What this suggests is that the main ideological dogma of American government since the 1970s, that we need to reduce the role of government in American society, reduce tax rates, and reduce regulation to generate a better economy is exactly the reverse of what history shows works,’’ he explained. “The period when the government was more engaged in the economy, was doing more to support the programs needed for the building of a strong middle class and the like was the period in which we had the greatest economic growth.”

Rosenbaum suggests that because of these attacks on government, many organizations, including ASPA, scaled back their efforts to build and advocate for a strong public sector. As president of ASPA, he wants to place more emphasis on one of its original goals, encouraging the organization to advocate for and support the revitalization of the nation’s public sector.

Such an effort involves many areas including healthcare, education, housing, transportation infrastructure, all the crucial building blocks of our society. Rosenbaum said part of the problem relates to the fact that those involved in these different sectors work in their own sphere. He argues that the organizations working in each area of activity should come together, “and form a more united front on behalf of building a public sector that works for all of us.”

“In virtually every area of public policy there are needs for greater resources and  greater opportunity,’’ he explained. “There are still too large segments of the American public that don’t have adequate housing, don’t have adequate healthcare, don’t have the educational opportunity that every American deserves.

“So part of advocating for a strong public sector is the more general issue of saying we need an activist government, we need a government that plays its needed and its very important role in helping to build a good society.”

Along with advocating for a stronger public sector, Rosenbaum hopes to encourage a broadening of the focus of what is relevant scholarship in the field. Public administration research on improving management is critical, but so is serious scholarship on what should be the role of government in American society.