Keeping It Public: Defending Public Service Values in a Customer Service Age


Philip H. Jos is a professor of political science at the College of Charleston. He received his doctorate from the University of South Carolina and his master's and bachelor's degrees from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. His published work has appeared in journals such as Administration & Society, Public Administration Review, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, and the American Review of Public Administration.

Mark E. Tompkins is an associate professor of political science at the University of South Carolina, where he has served as adjunct faculty in the School of the Environment, School of Medicine, and School of Public Health. He received his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Minnesota. His work has appeared in journals such as Public Administration Review, American Journal of Epidemiology, American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Politics, and Coastal Management.


Notwithstanding the persistence and proliferation of calls to serve “customers,” these relationships incorporate distinctively public priorities and performance expectations—priorities and expectations often shaped by a desire to reduce customer vulnerabilities and prevent seller strategies that are deemed unacceptable. The authors examine these distinctively public relationships—between professionals and clients, guardians and wards, facilitators and citizens, and regulators and subjects. By acknowledging that public administration often involves relationships with multiple constituencies and that opportunities to serve them are bounded by particular legal and institutional contexts, this essay provides a pragmatic account of strategic opportunities to defend public service values.