Louis Brownlow

American mayor

Louis Brownlow (August 29, 1879 – September 27, 1963) was an American author, political scientist, and consultant in the area of public administration. As chairman of the Committee on Administrative Management (better known as the Brownlow Committee) in 1937, he co-authored a report which led to passage of the Reorganization Act of 1939 and the creation of the Executive Office of the President.

Louis Brownlow, 1938.


  • In 1789, for the first time, at least in modern history and in the western world, there was set up an executive who was at one and the same time the chief of state, the leader of the legislature, the leader of a political party, the commander in chief of the military forces of the nation, and toe executive manager of the government.
    • Louis Brownlow. "The Executive Office of the Presidency." Public Administration Review, Winter 1941, vol. 1. p. 102.
  • Public Administration, in my opinion, is one of the most important things in the world; but it has little sex appeal.
    • Louis Brownlow: "The Art and Science of Public Administration." in: Puerto Rico and Its Public Administration Program. Proceedings of the Public Administration Conference, October-November 1945, p. 191.
  • As the honeymoon draws to its inevitable end, we no longer expect the President completely to fulfill our notion of what the symbol of the nation should be, but by the same token we tend to emphasize and insist upon our expectations that he will do for us certain things.
    • Louis Brownlow (1949). The president and the presidency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 52-72

"What Is an Administrator?" 1936


Louis Brown. "What Is an Administrator?" Remarks at Graduate Political Science Club of the University of Chicago, January 1936

  • I am going to give you for what it may be worth what I think are some of the qualifications a public administrator should have. I have tried to think of it in terms of personality, of training, of experience, and in none of those terms have I been able to discover what to me is a satisfactory answer. And no doubt the one thing that does satisfy my searching is susceptible of being termed as an oversimplification, but as I have looked about for administrators over a quarter of a century, I think I have discovered one thing that characterizes those that have been successful in many administrative positions of different types. It characterizes those that have been successful so far as their administrative work is concerned in the position of Presidents of the United States and Governors of states and Mayors of cities. It characterizes equally those that have been successful as the head of a finance department, the head of a unit of the health department, the head of a minor division in the police department, and the foreman of a garbage collecting gang. That is, to be a successful administrator one must have a catholic curiosity.
  • The successful public administrator is curious about everything. Perhaps you don't see just why it is that a public administrator should go about continually asking questions of everything and everybody about him. Well, let us take one functional phase of public administration in a municipal government.
One of the best administrators that I ever knew had a great curiosity about garbage. He was the head of the refuse disposal department of the District of Columbia. He asked all sorts of questions of the garbage cans and the ash cans and trash barrels, because in that city we imposed upon the householders a three way system of refuse removal. You couldn't put your trash and your garbage and your ashes all in one container, you had to have three containers, and also, at that particular time, the collectors were divided into three different crews. So this man with this curiosity made a study of what he found in the rubbish cans, and the results. If that study were plotted on a map, and as the result of the study of that map the routings were rearranged, the whole system of garbage collection was rearranged; not only of collection, but of disposal.
  • And what (else} did we discover? We discovered that it was exceedingly profitable to get garbage from large parts of the town; that garbage was rich in grease and in sugar. And we took it to the reduction plant and we turned that grease into a very acceptable and delightful non-odorous product which you a little later bought in the form of soap.
Another thing, it seems to me, is a by-product of this catholic curiosity, that is the ability to loaf. You can't be an administrator, a good successful administrator, and not know how to loaf. Because if you are industrious all the time and tend to your job, there is always more work than you can possibly do in a day, and if you tend to that job all the time you will be going right on in a routine, you will become more ans more specialized, you will become more and more analytical, you will become more and more interested in what you are particularly charged with doing, and progressively less and less generalized in your outlook, less and less interested in what the other fellow is doing. And the only way you can compensate for that, of course, is to loaf, to loaf whole-heartedly whenever and wherever possible, and with whomever, because the only way that you can find out what are the questions in the minds of these people you have got to loaf with them to find out the truth about how they feel.
Now, of course, you can't loaf with all the individuals, but you have to loaf with a great many of them, and you have to know how to do it, and you know you won't like to do it unless you have a catholic curiosity, not only about things that I've been talking about, but about persons.

Administrative management in the government of the United States. 1937


Louis Brownlow, Administrative management in the government of the United States. USGPO, 1937.

  • Administrative efficiency is not merely a matter of paper clips, time clocks, and standardized economies of motion. These are but minor gadgets. Real efficiency goes much deeper down. It must be built into the structure of a government just as it is built into a piece of machinery. Fortunately the foundations of effective management in public affairs, no less than in private, are well known. They have emerged universally wherever men have worked together for some common purpose, whether through the state, the church, the private association, or the commercial enterprise. They have been written into constitutions, charters, and articles of incorporation, and exist as habits of work in the daily life of all organized peoples. Stated in simple terms these canons of efficiency require the establishment of a responsible and effective chief executive as the center of energy, direction, and administrative management.
    • p. 2
  • The preservation of the principle of the full accountability of the Executive to the Congress is an essential part of our republican system. In actual practice the effectiveness of this accountability is often obstructed and obscured, and sometimes is defeated by the processes of diffusion, processes which are at work, not only in the Executive Branch but in the Congress itself.
    • p. 43
  • We have called attention to this difficulty with respect to fiscal accountability. We hold that once the Congress has made an appropriation, an appropriation which it is free to withhold, the responsibility for the administration of the expenditures under that appropriation is and should be solely upon the Executive. The Executive then should be held to account through an independent audit made by an independent auditor who will report promptly to the Congress his criticisms and exceptions of the actions of the Executive.
    • p. 43

A Passion for Anonymity, 1955


Louis Brownlow. A Passion for Anonymity: The Autobiography of Louis Brownlow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955, 1957, 1958.

  • They [the association directors] worked together in such bodies as the Board of Directors of the Public Administration Service. They worked together well in smaller groups when matters came up of common interest. But I was always careful, extremely careful, not to attempt to bind them together in any way as a corporate body, and I was meticulous in observing their utter independence.
    • (Brownlow 1958, 290), as cited in: Mary E. Guy, ‎Marilyn M. Rubin (2015), Public Administration Evolving. p. 222

Quotes about Louis Brownlow

  • Brownlow was instrumental in channeling foundation money for research in public affairs. His widespread contacts and conciliatory manner made him an invaluable liaison not only among opposing professional factions but between governmental officials and members of the public service. A clear indication of his talent as a mediator at conferences is revealed in a discussion of a housing conclave which he chaired.. All of these qualities made Brownlow an important figure in the first administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. With the expansion of government in order to meet the crisis of the depression, Brownlow was consulted on a number of appointments, as well as with respect to the institutionalization of the prolific bureaus. The culmination of this activity was his selection by President Roosevelt to head the President's Committee on Administrative Management in order to recognize the executive branch of the federal government.
Wikipedia has an article about: