John M. Gaus

American political scientist

John Merriman Gaus (1894-1969) was an American social scientist, and Professor of Public Administration at the University of Wisconsin and at Harvard University. He graduated from Amherst College in 1915, during the presidency of Alexander Meiklejohn. Gaus is known for his seminal work in the field of public administration.


  • Organization is the arrangement of personnel for facilitating the accomplishment of some agreed purpose through the allocation of functions and responsibilities. It is the relat­ing of efforts and capacities of individuals and groups engaged upon a common task in such a way as to secure the desired objective with the least friction and the most satisfaction to those for whom the task is done and those engaged in the enterprise.
  • New plains frontier was politically organized and opened and settled with little, if any, heed to its natural features of climate and land cover.
    • John Merriman Gaus, cited in: Renée Beville Flower, ‎Brent M. Haddad (2014), Reawakening the Public Research University. p. 197
  • Leonard D. White's desire "to organize his own knowledge" reminds us of how much hacking away at a jungle has to be done at such an early stage in the study of and reporting on a new field.
    • John M. Gaus, 1958. "Leonard Dupee White—1891–1958." Public Administration Review 18(2): p. 233

Reflections on public administration, 1947


John Merriman Gaus (1947), Reflections on public administration, University of Alabama press.

  • You who are apprentices in the field of public administration share with me who am older the task of trying to understand the new conditions in our field. Within a single generation, two world wars and a major depression have engulfed mankind. Within the past few months, the successful trial of the atomic bomb has opened the minds of the thoughtful to new possibilities, threats and coercions, and the defeat of Germany and Japan has abruptly presented the problems of peacemaking and reconstruction to war- weary masses of people. They seek release from their tragedies, deprivations and tensions, often in ways that defeat efforts to understand and attack the problems that confront them. To make progress in such a time, we must recruit widely and work as a guild, young and old together, to achieve a co-operative and cumulative effort whether in academic or governmental posts.
    • p. 1; Lead paragraph
  • The study of public administration must include its ecology. "Ecology," states the Webster Dictionary, "is the mutual relations, collectively, between organisms and their environment." J. W. Bews points out that "the word itself is derived from the Greek oikos a house or home, the same root word as occurs in economy and economics. Economics is a subject with which ecology has much in common, but ecology is much wider. It deals with all the inter-relationships of living organisms and their environment." Some social scientists have been returning to the use of the term, chiefly employed by the biologist and botanist, especially under the stimulus of studies of anthropologists, sociologists, and pioneers who defy easy classification, such as the late Sir Patrick Geddes in Britain.
    • p. 6
  • An ecological approach to public administration builds, then, quite literally from the ground up; from the elements of a place — soils, climate, location, for example — to the people who live there — their numbers and ages and knowledge, and the ways of physical and social technology by which from the place and in relationships with one another, they get their living. It is within this setting that their instruments and practices of public housekeeping should be studied so that they may better understand what they are doing, and appraise reasonably how they are doing it. Such an approach is of particular interest to us as students seeking to co-operate in our studies; for it invites — indeed is dependent upon — careful observation by many people in different environments of the roots of government functions, civic attitudes, and operating problems.
    • p. 8-9
  • The task will be more fruitfully performed if the citizen, and his agents in public offices, understand the ecology of government.
    • p. 19

Quotes about John M. Gaus

  • Students of administration, writes J. M. Gaus, have become "more uncertain in recent years as to the ends, aims and methods which they should advocate/' It is difficult to view in their entirety and in perspective the writings on public administration that now pour from the presses. But this is hardly necessary to confirm the truth of Gaus' statement.
  • One can only wonder what the discussions must have been like when John M. Gaus and Leonard D. White were colleagues in the same department. On the subject of technology in administration, their interests overlapped and at the same time diverged. White repeatedly focused on the first of the three crossover (exchange) relationships between technology and administration. His tendency, though with a full knowledge of politics, led toward the technocrats. He focused repeatedly on how equipment was used in the administrative process. Gaus placed "physical technology" among the seven factors that were "useful in explaining the ebb and flow of the functions of government."