Leading public administration scholar and civil servant dies
Harold Seidman, an influential scholar of public administration whose academic work was shaped by 25 years in the civil service, died of cancer Tuesday at the Methodist Home of Washington. He was 91. An authority on government structure and institutional design, Seidman was internationally known for his work on government by "third party," the practice of using the private sector or state and local governments to administer federal programs. Earlier, as a top bureaucrat at the old Bureau of the Budget, the precursor to the Office of Management and Budget, he helped implement the Marshall Plan and the Alaska and Hawaii statehood acts. He also helped organize the Transportation Department when it was created in 1967. "He was one of Washington's last wise men," said Benjamin Ginsberg, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Study of American Government in Washington, where Seidman taught. "He had enormous experience in government and tried to make sense of that experience in writing, producing some of the best literature on how government actually works." Seidman was by turns a journalist, municipal investigator, civil servant and professor in a career that spanned seven decades. He briefed presidents, wrote legislation and regulations, and mentored two generations of public administration scholars and students. At 27, he wrote his first book, a muckraking account of racketeering by labor unions. He published his best-known book, Politics, Position, and Power, at age 59, after he had retired from government to enter academia. As a civil servant and professor, his abiding concern was how to design public institutions that were both effective and accountable to the public. He maintained there was a clear difference between the public and private sectors and thought government agencies should be structured accordingly. These themes were manifest in his academic work and in legislation he helped craft. Seidman helped write the 1945 Government Corporation Control Act, which applied standard budget and auditing rules to "quasi-governmental" institutions such as the Tennessee Valley Authority. In Politics, Position, and Power (1970), a public administration standard that has been through five editions, he explored the emergence of government by third party. "Harold could kind of see through the forest and pick out these trends that were going to be of significance in the evolution of American governance," said Robert O'Neill, president of the National Academy of Public Administration. "Here was a guy who could see all of these new trends before the rest of us." His interests often put him at odds with new management fads, of which he could be quite critical. "We are more creative in devising new political slogans than we are in adapting our public institutions and systems to changes in their missions, environment and technology," he wrote in Government Executive in 1993. In the same article, he leveled a characteristic critique of the Clinton-era mantra that government should "steer" programs, leaving implementation or "rowing" to the private sector.
"The choice of program design, institutional type, may well determine who will control and benefit from a program and directly influence program content and results," he wrote. "The means cannot be divorced from the ends. The oarsmen also have the power to steer the boat." Seidman began his career as a journalist with The Nation, writing under editor Ernest Gruening, who later became one of the first senators from Alaska. In 1938, he joined the investigations division for New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, where he investigated labor unions and recipients of city contracts. Seidman resigned when LaGuardia obstructed his investigation into David "Mickey" Marcus, a World War II hero who worked for the city's department of corrections. In 1940 Seidman earned a Ph.D. from Yale University and began his career at the Bureau of the Budget three years later. Besides crafting legislation, he also wrote several federal regulations that endure today, including OMB Circular A-76. In 1964, he was named assistant director for organization and management at the Bureau, making him the top government-wide management official. After leaving government in 1968, he taught at the University of Connecticut and helped create the Johns Hopkins Center for the Study of American Government in Washington. A longtime mentor for students and faculty at the Hopkins Center, he continued to read masters theses even after he was hospitalized in April. Seidman lectured widely and consulted for several foreign governments, including those of Colombia, Guatemala, Ireland, and Vietnam. In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Connecticut. Last year he received the Keeper of the Flame Award from NAPA and the American Society of Public Administration, which recognizes officials who continue to contribute to the public service after retiring from government. Seidman's long federal career and scholarship made him a giant in the field of public administration, according to Thomas Stanton, a NAPA fellow. "The mandarins are those British senior civil servants who endure as administrations come and go, and have tremendous influence because they understand the history and context of policies and government," said Stanton. "Harold was an American mandarin." Seidman lived in Washington and never married. A memorial service is planned in Washington in early October.