A History of the State Academy for
Public Administration

The State Academy for Public Administration was formed by the Empire State Capital Area Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) in 1974 to serve as a unique forum for engaging the skills and talents of senior government professionals in support of the public service in New York State.

New York’s Legacy of Government Leadership

Beginning a century before, New York State, one of the earliest to enact a civil service clause in its constitution to create a merit system, was in the process of evolving to a role of national leadership in the quality and competence of its governmental administration. For 14 years before the State Academy’s founding, New York State government and, to a lesser extent, local government functioned under the stimulating leadership of governors Nelson A. Rockefeller and Malcolm Wilson. There was a steady influx into government of young, bright administrators, many of them trained by the three nationally prominent public administration schools in New York: Syracuse University, New York University and the State University of New York at Albany Graduate School of Public Affairs, which in 1981 became the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy of the State University of New York at Albany.

As government became more deeply immersed in efforts to attack the social, economic and environmental problems of the time, the demand for professionally qualified managers seemed limitless. The expansionist philosophy of those administrations led them consistently to champion professionalism in public management. Local ASPA chapters, considered prestigious, were the organization of choice for middle and senior managers, especially in the generalist disciplines such as management analysis, budgeting and personnel administration.

The Creation of the State Academy

It was not surprising, then, that an organization should be created in 1974 to recognize and utilize the skills and talent of senior public officials for credible research on issues of public policy in New York state and similar contributions. The State Academy for Public Administration would recognize a senior public manager’s achievements in public service and significant contributions to public administration and would be reinforced by admission through election rather than application. Those so honored and selected would have an additional route to contribute to the public.

The State Academy’s Certificate of Incorporation under the New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law created an organization whose structure and activities would parallel those of the National Academy for Public Administration. The State Academy was formed expressly to:

  • Operate exclusively for charitable, educational and scientific purposes, including the improvement of the policies, processes, personnel and institutions for public administration;
  • Promote scholarly inquiry and discussion concerning public administration;
  • Sponsor state and regional in-service training, special conferences and educational programs; and,
  • Provide advice, analysis and information on public administration problems and issues at the request of governmental units or non-profit organizations.

Early Efforts in Supporting Public Administration

One of the prime movers in the State Academy’s formation was Dr.Samuel Hays, then head of the Public Executive Project affiliated with the State University of New York at Albany Graduate School of Public Affairs. Dr. Hays provided substantial initiative, assistance and direction to the fledgling organization. He was the first executive director, and in later years when the State Academy failed to approach the lofty expectations originally contemplated, he kept the organization alive. His efforts were needed almost immediately after the State Academy’s formation when the climate within which it was created experienced significant changes and it failed to develop as hoped largely due to disillusionment with expansive government programs. This disillusionment began to generate a deeper resistance to public service as a worthy vocation for bright students and talented managers.

Even in this climate, the State Academy’s leaders hoped to carve out a role providing analysis and advice to New York State government. In 1976, the State Academy submitted a research paper to the Carey Administration on managing executive personnel. Another paper the following year addressed the Senior Executive Service.

The Public Management Intern program, begun in 1947, brought to Albany many capable graduates from New York University, Syracuse University, the New York State university system and other schools of public administration around the country and contributed significantly to the quality and professionalism of management in state government. When it was suspended for a time in the mid-1980s, the State Academy concentrated its efforts on advocacy for the reinstatement of the program and it was revived in 1987. Despite this, the PMI program was dropped in 1995 only to be resuscitated a second time in 1997 again with State Academy advocacy.

By the late 70’s and 80’s when the State Academy had failed to attract significant grants or sponsors for major policy or administration research, it began to adopt a much more modest agenda, offering programs and speakers of professional interest to its Fellows. Through the 90’s and beyond, these “meet and eat” programs became the core of the State Academy’s activity.

Historical Milestones

The State Academy’s history includes some worthwhile milestones.

  • It organized the Volunteer Executive Service Corps of Albany (now called the Executive Service Corps of the Tri-Cities or ESCOT), a vehicle through which seasoned retired or active senior public officials can volunteer to provide advisory services to government and non-profit organizations. Participants in ESCOT’s programs have undertaken ambitious projects.
  • The State Academy and the Empire State Capital Area ASPA chapter co-sponsored the prestigious Nelson A. Rockefeller Award for Distinguished Public Service and published the honoree’s remarks as the Rockefeller Lecture.
  • There have been occasional independent policy studies, such as the 1987 New York Governance in the 21St Century project in cooperation with the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. This project convened several task forces to examine public issues, held conferences and published the task forces’ reports.
  • The State Academy also undertook a significant study of civil service reform in 1993: A Time To Just Do It-Change: Recommendations For Changes In The New York State Human Resources Management System. In addition, the State Academy has issued statements on public policy issues, most notably one in 1992 on the recommendations of the National Commission on the State and Local Public Service. More recently, the State Academy convened a panel of experts including both Fellows and others to address the problem of housing and homelessness.

The Essentials Program

During a suspension of the Public Management Intern program for budgetary reasons, the State Academy decided it could help meet state agency administrative training needs by designing and conducting a training program for mid-level managers. In cooperation with the ESCAC-ASPA Chapter, a group of Fellows spent a year analyzing and considering priority knowledge and skills and topics to be addressed. The inaugural 35-person class of the Essentials of Public Administration in New York State program was convened in 2000, and each year another cohort of senior State managers has participated in a 9-month program of monthly seminars on critical State government operations led by the State’s leading public sector practitioners and academics.

On a continuing basis the State Academy continues to be focused on periodic programs featuring leaders in public administration discussing current issues of interest to members. Many of these programs are conducted in collaboration with ESCAC-ASPA, the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, and other public service organizations.