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Revista de Administração Pública

Print version ISSN 0034-7612On-line version ISSN 1982-3134

Rev. Adm. Pública vol.53 no.5 Rio de Janeiro Sept./Dec. 2019  Epub Nov 11, 2019 


Reforming Public Administration in the post-war world: Designing a national project or following global guidelines? (1950-1970)

1 Universidade Nova de Lisboa / Instituto de História Contemporânea, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Lisboa - Portugal


In the late 1960s, Portugal began a project for public administration reform in order to adapt the national structures to the new challenges of the decade. At the same time, internationally, governments were struggling to improve their levels of efficiency to respond better to the demands for economic and social development. These challenges led to the establishment of significant international networks responsible for the dissemination of principles and practices that encouraged and supported administrative reforms all over the world. This article intends to prove that the Portuguese project of administrative reform is a product of several international incentives. It also intends to show how this process began after the end of World War II and followed international guidelines to fulfil national objectives.

Keywords: Portugal; “Estado Novo”; public administration; economic and social development; international impulses


No final da década de 1960, Portugal iniciou um processo de Reforma da Administração Pública que pretendia adequar as estruturas do Estado às novas lógicas do período e aos desafios por ele lançados. Entretanto, também internacionalmente, as administrações públicas lutavam para melhorar seus níveis de eficiência para responder às lógicas do desenvolvimento econômico e social. A importância desse desafio conduziu ao estabelecimento de importantes redes de disseminação de princípios e práticas de Reforma da Administração Pública que incentivam e suportam experiências por todo o mundo. Este artigo busca evidenciar a forma como o projeto de Reforma Administrativa português foi devedor de impulsos internacionais variados, em um processo que se iniciou logo após a Segunda Guerra Mundial e que seguiu linhas internacionais para cumprir objetivos nacionais.

Palavras-chave: Portugal; Estado Novo; administração pública; desenvolvimento econômico e social; dinâmicas internacionais


A fines de la década de los sesenta Portugal emprendió un proceso de reforma de su administración pública que pretendía adecuar las estructuras del Estado a las nuevas lógicas y desafíos lanzados en ese período. El mismo esfuerzo se estaba realizando a nivel internacional para mejorar los niveles de eficiencia y responder a los propósitos generales de desarrollo económico y social. La importancia de dicho desafío condujo a la creación de importantes redes de diseminación de principios y prácticas de reforma de la administración pública, que incentivan y sustentan experiencias en todo el mundo. Este artículo pretende mostrar cómo el proyecto portugués de reforma administrativa fue deudor de esos diversos impulsos internacionales, en un proceso que se inició inmediatamente después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial y que siguió las recomendaciones internacionales para cumplir objetivos nacionales.

Palabras clave: Estado Nuevo; administración pública; desarrollo económico y social; dinámicas internacionales


In the late 1960s, Portugal developed a Public Administration Reform project that aimed to address the economic and social situation of the civil servants, the organisational structures of the Administration, the quality of the relations with the public and the working methods and processes used.

In fact, the deficiencies of the Portuguese Public Administration had started to be unveiled during the management of the Marshall Plan and through the preparatory studies for the Development Plans, increasing awareness on the need to improve its performance in a time when the public sector was expanding, and the volume of bureaucratic work was increasing. After being mentioned in the Law of Resources for 1962, the project was developed during the preparatory studies for the III Development Plan, from which, within the Inter-ministerial Committee for Economic Planning and Integration, the Working Group no. 14, responsible for the studies on Administrative Reform, was created. The Secretariat for Administrative Reform would be born from its work in 1967, a body dependent on the Presidency of the Council, which directed studies and works for the implementation of the necessary reforms.

The project of the Administrative Reform would be developed due to the proactive approach of some stakeholders, mostly close to the Presidency of the Council, and other central bodies of the State apparatus, and it aimed to overcome the weaknesses presented by the Portuguese Public Administration. In fact, to maintain the regime during the victory of democracies, it was necessary to adapt the structures of the State to the new functions that it should perform regarding the economic development of the country.

However, were the motivations that framed the Portuguese project of Administrative Reform purely national? Were their methods, objectives and characteristics original? Or were there important international impulses that influenced the Portuguese reform? Furthermore, was the Portugal of the 1960s isolated in regard to the need to make Public Administration more efficient, or was this a global concern?

The bibliography regarding research on the processes of Administrative Reform that took place during the Portuguese Estado Novo (New State) is scarce and does not address the international connections considered here. In this framework, this article seeks to argue that the process of Administrative Reform developed in Portugal, roughly between 1967 and 1972/73, was not original, despite presenting some specific features, and that, in fact, it integrated a global reform movement in public administration that had already started and which took place not only in Europe but also in Latin America, Asia and Africa. It tries to highlight how Portugal came into direct or indirect contact with international organisations that were in charge of disseminating a new logic for the world public administrations. Finally, it aims to emphasise not only chronological similarities but also similarities in objectives and characteristics between the Portuguese Public Administration Reform process and other internationally developed projects.


At the end of the Second World War, Public Administration faced global challenges. On the one hand, the countries that had been directly affected by military recruitment and which had already felt the need to quickly train new civil servants during the conflict were now struggling with the need to retrain those who were re-joining the State services. On the other, the need to streamline the State apparatus, making it less expensive, presented itself as a problem at an international level (Talloen, 1957). Simultaneously, the social and economic transformations that were happening all over the world had led to the development of a new role of the State in society, to which new functions were being assigned as a promoter of economic development and social well-being, which implied a higher level of interventionism.

In fact, the world had changed after the Second World War, and these changes would have a direct impact on the role and functions attributed to the State. In Europe, the economic reconstruction and reconstitution of the continent needed to be based on an efficient, more developed civil service with new economic and social functions. In Africa and Asia, the wave of post-war independences had given rise to new States, in which Public Administration had to be reorganised according to new logics. The United States of America (USA) understood the need for economic and social development, based on sound public administrations, as an essential element to prevent the spread of socialist doctrines in Latin America. In any of these cases, an effective Public Administration was considered to be the guarantor of economic development and social well-being, which were essential for the maintenance of peace and the defence of democracy (cf. Caiden, 1973; Otenyo & Lind, 2006; Phillips, 1963).

At the same time that there was a change in the role of the State in society and consequent enlargement of its functions, the awareness of the inadequacy of public administrations that continued, in general, to be based on traditional and regular work methods, presenting a low level of efficiency and productivity, deepened. In addition, in some countries, the civil service was fighting against a dangerous flight of qualified staff to the private sector, due to the wage differences between the two sectors and the increase of benefits granted by private companies. These included particularly sickness, disability and retirement benefits, but also bonuses and overtime payments (cf. Gonçalves, 1972; Salgueiro, 1971). Thus, the development of Public Administration would be understood, particularly from the 1950s onwards, as a global concern, regardless of the nature of the political regimes and the economic and social differences between countries (United Nations Organization [UNO], 1967).

On a theoretical level, the development of Administrative Sciences accompanied this issue, alerting to the need to modernise the working structure and methods of public administrations according to scientific models of work organisation. Furthermore, it alerted to the need to invest in the training of civil servants, to clearly define their rights and duties and to provide them with benefits equivalent to those which were being provided by private companies, to prevent the escape of skilled workers (Gonçalves, 1972).

This awareness about the necessity to renew public administrations, making them more efficient, and review the role and profile of the States and their level of interventionism in society and the economy was related to the development of the concept of “administration for development”. In fact, the economic growth of the “Glorious Thirty”1 needed to be anchored in administrative structures prepared to respond to the challenges of development, with the State being directly responsible for promoting the conditions and strategies necessary for its achievement. In Europe, both the Economic Reconstruction and Reconstitution Programme, developed by the USA, and the national economic development plans needed an administrative structure that was capable, efficient and fast and which was rooted on a properly trained staff. It was necessary to extend the logic of productivity to Public Administration, to renovate working structures, bodies and methods and ensure that the public sector maintained the capacity to attract the best employees. In the countries of the South, the consequences of the Second World War, the wave of decolonisation and the logic of the Cold War, led to the need to create developed and organised public administrations, with able employees, who could devise projects of sustainable development, normalise the new States, improve the standard of living of the populations and secure peace (International Institute of Administrative Sciences [IIAS], 1971).

Administration for Development, thus, became a concept known almost globally. It included the administrative reforms needed to equip public administrations with the conditions they lacked to promote economic and social development policies and strategies and to ensure administrative support for economic planning and social development (Gant, 2006).


The new functions that were almost globally attributed to the States and the importance of the Administration for Development led to the wide dissemination of issues related to the reform of public administrations by international organisations and technical assistance programmes.

The United Nations (UN) was one of the entities that most contributed to the renewal of public administrations at the global level through a structured programme of technical assistance, drawing attention to the need to create strong and efficient public administrations as supporting pillars of economic and social progress. In fact, the Charter of the United Nations (Organização das Nações Unidas [ONU], 1945), presented as objective, in article 55, the promotion of the conditions necessary for global economic and social development, and the improvement of Public Administration on a global level was understood as one of the factors that would lead to that development. As such, the first UN programme in this field would start on the first session of the General Assembly devoted to the promotion of social welfare. The need to train specialised personnel in these matters was recognised shortly afterwards by the General Assembly’s Resolution No. 58 (I) of December 1946, which advocated the creation of a training programme for civil servants in the fields of social welfare in the public sector (UNO, 1967).

Two years later, the UN started a technical assistance program devoted to Public Administration, whose operations effectively began in 1950, with the awarding of the first grants and the sending of the first specialists. The grant programme was funded by the UN General Assembly and initially prioritised the training of intermediary civil servants from the member States. The funds allocated by the grants should be used to organise and participate in seminars on Public Administration problems, as well as to develop or improve national institutions that offered courses on the same subjects (UNO, 1951).

The UN recognised the urgency of making the most efficient administrative methods available to the member States, guaranteeing the effective transfers of technical knowledge and assistance in order to ensure the sustainable development and dissemination of Administrative Sciences throughout the world (UNO, 1948). In 1949, 24 countries requested technical assistance from the UN in the fields of Public Administration, through 120 grants, of which 38 were awarded, starting the following year (UNO, 1948). A collaboration with the International Institute of Administrative Sciences (IIAS) also emerged, which resulted in the publication of a series of monographs and comparative studies on Public Administration, which were used in training projects throughout the world, including in those that were not directly sponsored by the UN (UNO, 1948).

Focusing first on issues of employee training, the technical assistance programme then extended its action to become, in the framework of public administration reform, a more comprehensive support project for governments, comprising three levels of action. On the one hand, the granting of technical assistance, upon request of the governments, which included training activities carried out by expert services; the awarding of grants; the creation or support of training institutes; the organisation of seminars, conferences and working groups; and technical publications. On the other, in collaboration with IIAS and other organisations, the compilation, analysis and exchange of technical information regarding Public Administration; and, finally, technical assistance to governments, to promote the constitution of a solid Administration compatible with economic and social development (UNO, 1953). The importance of the work carried out during the 1950s led to the pursuit of the UN technical assistance programme in matters regarding Public Administration during the following decade, known as the United Nations Development Decade.

In this decade, the topics most focused on, in the framework of the UN’s technical assistance in Public Administration, were mainly the implementation of the principles of Organisation and Methods (O&M) and of simplification of work, with an emphasis on the importance of creating central O&M services, as well as central offices of administrative planning directly linked to the service responsible for economic planning. Regarding the training of employees, the grant programme would favour the participation of civil servants in management positions, to increase the possibilities of an effective implementation of the principles and methods presented (UNO, 1951).

The UN technical assistance programme has, in fact, an almost global character. However, it should be noted that, in the 1960s, the relations between Portugal and the UN were strained (Pereira, 2005). How can we explain, then, the similarities between the process of Administrative Reform launched in Portugal at the end of the decade and the international experiences supported by the UN? Portugal’s participation in bodies like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the European Productivity Agency (EPA) and national institutions from European countries, which facilitated part of the training and study missions integrated by Portugal, would be some of the vehicles that would put the country in contact with this international movement. However, the IIAS, funded by the UN and whose journal was used as a dissemination body for its technical assistance programmes, would also have a very interesting role in the process. Through scientific publications and meetings of the IIAS, Portugal received the technical information disseminated by the UN, kept abreast of international developments, and established contact with foreign technicians, connecting with a true international network in the field of Public Administration, which influenced the processes of Administrative Reform around the world (Hosch, 1964).

The IIAS had been established in the early 1930s, following the evolution of the Permanent Commission for International Administrative Sciences Congresses. This commission, born after the first International Congress of Administrative Sciences, held in 1910, in Brussels, aimed to prepare future congresses and, at its beginning, it was composed of representatives of 22 countries, including Portugal (Fisch, 2005). Subsequently, in the early 1930s, the Permanent Commission for International Administrative Sciences Congresses would be transformed into a more stable body, which would take the name IIAS.

Portugal would be one of the first countries to present a national section of this International Commission and would join the institute shortly after its creation. The IIAS congresses, round tables, scientific meetings and publications were responsible for the creation of important knowledge-sharing networks of Administrative Sciences. They articulated exchanges between technicians belonging to the national sections of the organisation and other scholars of Public Administration and disseminated theoretical works and national experiences of Administrative Reform that had been put into practice in the most diverse areas of the globe. In addition to the international contacts mentioned above, the Portuguese collaboration with the institute made it possible for the country to benefit from a series of training actions aimed mainly at the civil servants of the highest levels of Public Administration. After the Second World War, the Portuguese cooperation with the IIAS deepened, giving rise to a closer relationship which integrated some of the main actors of the Administrative Reform in Portugal.


The previously described international logics formed only a small part of the effort developed after the Second World War, with the aim of improving global administrative practices (Israel, 1957), and which was supported by organisations such as the UN, the United States Agency for International Development, the Organisation of American States, the Ford Foundation and the Economic Commission for Latin America (Phillips, 1963). Thus, Administrative Reform, despite being a national achievement, had a profound international connotation. Therefore, it is not surprising that, although the projects implemented in the various countries were adjusted to their own characteristics and needs, there were several common traits in the objectives, methods and contents highlighted internationally.

This reality is also visible in Portugal. Despite exhibiting some delay in comparison with other international realities and following the national logics of the time, the Administrative Reform designed in the second half of the 1960s and the first half of the following decade showed similarities with the international reality. On the one hand, it presented a clear connection with the scientific principles and methods of organisation of administrative work disseminated in the framework of the Portuguese participation in the Marshall Plan, in which the State was the main beneficiary (Rollo, 2007), and in training initiatives organised by the OECD and the EPA, not forgetting the role of international consultants in organisation or the contribution of initiatives by bodies such as the National Institute of Industrial Research (INII) (Azevedo, 2014). On the other hand, some influences from the UN technical assistance programme were also visible, as well as similarities with Administrative Reform processes carried out around the world, namely in areas that were outside the influence of the Marshall Plan, but which were directly or indirectly benefited by the UN technical assistance2.

This relationship is visible in the objectives, actors, chronology and characteristics that the process of Administrative Reform of the 1960s presented in the country. As far as the objectives are concerned, and even though each country presented some specificities in its aims, the Administrative Reform processes initiated at the time had similar intentions, as became apparent in the previous sections. The need to adapt the civil service to the challenges arising from the new role of the State, as the promoter of economic and social development, was presented as the main goal of the Administrative Reforms. In Portugal, this process was the result of some voluntarisms whose actors, in their majority, were directly or indirectly touched by organisations and networks dedicated to the dissemination of methods that allowed for the improvement of the efficiency of Public Administration.

This relationship is quite explicit regarding the IIAS. Marcello Caetano, a professor of Administrative Law, one of the main contributors to the Administrative Reform of the 1930s, the Administrative Code of 1940, and a supporter of the reform initiated in 1967, was one of the main interlocutors between Portugal and the IIAS, regularly attending meetings of the institute, and becoming its vice-president in the 1940s. António Pedrosa Pires de Lima, the director-general of the Political and Civil Administration and the author of several publications on issues regarding Public Administration, would become a member of the Scientific Committee of the Institute; Aureliano Felismino, the director-general of Public Accounting and responsible for the Research Office António José Malheiro, where important studies and experiments on rationalisation of the Public Administration were developed, would become a member of the Committee on Administrative Practices. Diogo de Paiva Brandão, the secretary-general of the Presidency of the Council, which oversaw the Administrative Reform, was a frequent presence at the IIAS congresses and a member of its Portuguese section, which became the Portuguese Institute of Administrative Sciences (PIAS) in 1968. Duarte Nuno Vasconcellos, a member of the Portuguese delegation of the International Congress of Administrative Sciences of 1971, held in Rome, and specialised in O&M by the Spanish National School of Public Administration, would play the role of monitor in training activities organised by the Secretariat for Administrative Reform3.

Some of the most important stakeholders in the Administrative Reform in Portugal, whether because they were part of the services responsible for it, or because they had senior positions in organisations that focused on its study and application, were connected to the initiatives of the IIAS and had access to technical information and international experiences supported by the UN. In addition, the influence of organisations such as the OECD and the EPA in the training of technicians and the dissemination of scientific methods of office organisation and administrative work is also significant. In fact, the existence in Portugal of a group of individuals deeply connected to the Public Administration, through governmental and technical positions, who constituted a support platform for the implementation of attempts at Administrative Reform, is quite visible. Their awareness of the need to transform the Administration led them to take advantage of the possibilities of training and knowledge transfer provided by these international networks, to try to implement in Portugal the changes they considered necessary. The international logics that impelled the transformation of the Public Administration and the commitment, internationalisation and awareness of these individuals were thus combined to enable attempts at administrative modernisation.

Looking at the training actions developed in Portugal that focused on problems related to the improvement of the efficiency of Public Administration, it can be verified that in the first few years, these stemmed from initiatives from the OECD and the EPA, with a large presence of foreign monitors. Later on, the Portuguese monitors, many of whom had studied abroad, started to have a greater and more visible role (Azevedo, 2014). Furthermore, under the initiative of IIAS and PIAS, training actions that included the presence of foreign monitors were carried out, and some national technicians were allowed to participate in training activities abroad. Thus, the actors that would influence the changes that should be made in Public Administration came into contact, during their training, with principles and methods that sought to improve its efficiency, which were spread by foreign organisations and monitors, integrated in international networks of knowledge transfer.

As far as the chronology is concerned, the movement for the reform of public administrations that took place in the third quarter of the 20th century began, as the development of the UN technical assistance programme witnessed, still in the late 1940s. In Portugal, this process happened later on. Despite some partial and disjointed reforms that took place, particularly, since the 1950s, a more systematic study on the subject stemmed from the preparatory works for the III Development Plan, and was only materialised in 1967, with the creation of the Secretariat for Administrative Reform. In the previous decade, the administrative formalities included in the logic of the Marshall Plan had already alerted to the low level of efficiency, organisation and responsiveness of the National Public Administration. However, the needs regarding the planning and implementation of Development Plans consolidated this awareness, in a period when the Portuguese State saw itself compelled to embrace new roles concerning the development of the country, becoming more interventive on an economic and social level (cf. Caiden, 1973; Passos, 1991).

However, not all countries began their processes of Administrative Reform at the turn of the 1940s to the 1950s. In fact, the late 1950s and, particularly, the 1960s, witnessed the greatest expansion of these processes. For example, in Spain, the first attempts at modernising the Public Administration began, as in Portugal, in the 1960s, guided by the introduction of new techniques from the private sector in Central Administration and the management of employees, as well as in budget and economic planning (Alba, 2008). This transformation was due to the economic changes that occurred during the 1960s, which alerted to the need for a less legalistic Public Administration, more oriented towards management techniques, in order to manage the increase of state interventionism in society and the expansion of the staff body. Thus, from 1964 onwards, under the aegis of the Minister of the Office of the President, structural and legal reforms, coordinated with the logic of economic planning, were made, which allowed for a real modernisation of some governmental bodies without questioning the nature of the regime (Alba & Navarro, 2011).

However, in France, the 1960s also marked a shift in the logic of Public Administration concerning the application of management and organisation methods, consolidating the principle that not only could Public Administration be evaluated in terms of efficiency, but it should also improve productivity and streamline working methods (Chevalier, 2006). The Netherlands and Germany have similar chronologies. In the Netherlands, the 1960s were marked by the development of Administrative Sciences, as a result of the expansion of a Welfare State that needed scientific support for its rationalisation (Kickert, 2006), leading to an increase in public functions, which involved planning and political strategies (Kickert, 2006). The same reality is evident in Germany, with the emergence of administrative reforms that aimed to adapt the State apparatus to the logic of the Welfare State and modernise the public sector. But some of the countries of the South would also witness reform experiences during the same period. Colombia, for example, began a process of Administrative Reform in 1958, which would develop during the 1960s (Groves, 1974). Moreover, during those decades, similar projects took place in countries as distinct as Jordan, Vietnam and India, to name a few.

Finally, notwithstanding the specificities of each national case, the main features of the administrative reforms implemented or studied internationally were relatively similar, and were also the ones that became evident in the Portuguese case. In Portugal, the Administrative Reform that began in the 1960s was developed around four main lines of action: the situation of the civil servants; the organisational structures of the Administration; the relations with the public; and the operations carried out by the services (Secretariado da Reforma Administrativa, 1968). Analysing the objectives of the UN technical assistance programme, the IIAS publications and some international projects, it appears that these lines of action also structured, to a large extent, the reform processes developed in other countries.

As far as the first line is concerned, the need to improve the economic situation and the social well-being of civil servants has been present in the framework of the UN technical assistance programme since its early years. In 1951, the report of the Special Committee on Public Administration Problems warned about the need to provide better conditions and higher salaries to public servants, to keep employees with experience in the fields of development at the service of the State and to attract a sufficient number of technicians of high professional competence. In the Portuguese case, the low remuneration of the civil servants together with inflation led to the employees’ search for a second job and acceptance of irregular sources of income, reasoning that was not only detrimental to their quality of life but which also implied less dedication to the civil service. In addition, the reform guidelines advocated the need to pay attention to the social support of civil servants in terms of sickness and retirement, benefits which had been improved in the private sector (UNO, 1951).

This concern is, in fact, one of the aspects that were most taken into account internationally. In Europe, the processes of Administrative Reform in countries like France, Malta, Italy or Denmark presented the improvement of working conditions and working hours; the study of issues regarding recruitment, promotion and classification of employees; and the study of their wage levels, as well as issues related to training, as priorities (Alhaique, 1957; Godchot, 1970; Henares, 1961; Meyer, 1960). In Latin America and Asia, these issues were also pillars of the administrative reforms that took place at the time. In Jordan, the Public Administration Reform held as an essential point the establishment of new rules regarding functionalism, focusing particularly on the creation of a new wage scale (IIAS, 1958). Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Venezuela and Mexico, whose processes of Administrative Reform were heavily indebted to the UN and US technical assistance, also paid great attention to the human factor. They showed concern about the restructuring of administrative careers, the establishment of new recruitment rules and the revision of training programmes, and paid a renewed attention to wage issues, the status of the civil service and the planning of human resources (Arias, 1957; Brewer-Carias, 1970, 1972; Castro, 1974).

However, the pivotal aspect of the reforms ended up being related to the organic structures of the Administration, and Portugal did, in fact, bet on the reorganisation and restructuring of bodies and public services, in an attempt to assign them a higher degree of efficiency and rationality. Internationally, this was also considered an essential element in the processes of Administrative Reform, it being argued that the main problems of Public Administration were related to the lack of coordination between the administrative programmes and the existing departments, ministries and services; as well as the use of work methods and circuits without functionality.

Internationally, it was considered that although the structures of Public Administration should be adjusted to the national reality, they should remain simple, with as few services as possible and with clearly defined functions. It was, therefore, crucial to reorganise the administrative structures and, if necessary, to establish new departments, in a process which should be accompanied by a secretariat or council for Administrative Reform, placed under the responsibility of the Chief Executive (UNO, 1951).

In fact, the link between this central body that was responsible for the Public Administration Reform and the Chief Executive was characteristic of reform processes at the international level and was also defended by the UN technical assistance programme. In Portugal, the Secretariat for Administrative Reform was set up within the Presidency of the Council, as would be the case in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico (Alhaique, 1957; Brewer-Carias, 1970; Castro, 1974; Potas, 1957) and Colombia (Groves, 1974), among others. This central research and planning body, together with the O&M units created in several government departments, contributed to the restructuring of ministries, services, departments and other state bodies, whose reorganisation was understood as essential for improving the efficiency of Public Administration.

In the same way, the link between the Ministry of Finance and the Administrative Reform in Portugal, found both in the reform of the 1930s, and in the creation of the Research Office António José Malheiros (Azevedo, 2017), was also an international feature, since, in the new logic of Administration for development, the need for a more active Ministry of Finance, with a higher technical capacity, emerged.

The work operations and methods carried out by public services were also relevant at the international level. Deeply connected with the reorganisation of public bodies was the implementation of new administrative procedures and methods, based on the study of work circuits. In some countries, such as Portugal, O&M offices were set up with the aim of promoting organisational, administrative and procedural uniformity for all services; improving the quality of the government’s operations through specialised organisation and administration services; promoting economies of scale; and helping existing departments by removing from them the increased effort of carrying out organisational functions in their operations (UNO, 1951).

In fact, and following the UN recommendations, the use of O&M units is a common reality for countries that are embarking on reform processes, whether they carry out a joint action under the dependence of a central body or are dispersed among the various bodies of the State. The need to simplify working methods and procedures, streamline documentation circuits and implement mechanisation and automation is present in the administrative reforms undertaken throughout the world (cf. Brewer-Carias 1970; Castro, 1974; François, 1970; Godchot, 1970; Koch, 1967; Laberge, 1960; Langrod, 1964; Meyer, 1960; Uotila, 1961; Wurmser, 1957).


Portuguese bibliography or bibliography regarding the problems behind the modernisation of the Public Administration during the Estado Novo in Portugal is rather scarce. Moreover, these studies rarely escape a logic of national analysis, linked to the political and economic assumptions of the regime. This article seeks to contribute to the broadening of the analysis on administrative modernisation in the decades preceding the revolution, which, in 1974, would establish democracy in Portugal. Considering how, in Portugal, international impulses were reflected in administrative studies, we tried to insert into the equation of the process of administrative modernisation, the role of the opening of the country to the exterior and the internationalisation of a generation of cadres.

In fact, considering how the process of Administrative Reform, which began in the late 1960s, was presented by the Estado Novo, it might easily be understood as a purely national project, despite the visible international impacts on the training of employees and technicians. However, analysing the international reality, it becomes clear that the reform initiated in Portugal was not original, instead following, to a large extent, the logic that had been internationally disseminated since the end of the Second World War. Despite its slight delay, the Portuguese Administrative Reform presents characteristics, objectives and methodologies similar to those of the international reality and, at the level of its actors, the role of globalisation and of the direct or indirect contact with the organisations which advocated the need to improve the efficiency of public administrations is evident.

Despite the nature of the regime, and without questioning it, Portugal was compelled, after the Second World War, to reflect on its own process of economic development, so the State had to play a more interventionist role in favour of development. The procedures necessary for the management of the Marshall Plan and the logic which arose from the economic planning embodied by the Development Plans reveal a Public Administration that was not very efficient, and which used routine work methods and processes that were not very rational, composed by officials that were weakly trained and who felt increasingly tempted by the conditions offered by the private sector. The economic development of the country depended, thus, on an effective reform of the Public Administration.

In parallel with this recognition, Portugal had begun to open up to the outside world. The Technical Assistance and Productivity Program had placed the country in contact with organisations such as OECD and EPA. In this way, Portugal integrated, in particular as a beneficiary, the international networks of knowledge transfer created by these organisations, as well as those that derived from the Portuguese collaboration with the IIAS and which allowed it, indirectly, to get in contact with the technical information and international experiences resulting from the technical assistance programmes of the UN.

The international impacts are also evident in the characteristics of the Portuguese Administrative Reform. The focus areas under which it occurred are also those that, despite the specificities of each country, were more internationally apparent, and the same happened with its main characteristics. In fact, by comparing international sources and bibliography and, mainly, the articles published in the International Review of Administrative Sciences, where the various reform processes are reported, this reality becomes quite clear. The priority attributed internationally to the economic and social situation of civil servants, the organic structures of the Administration, the relations with the public and the operations performed by the services, is quite evident. As such, the Portuguese Administrative Reform Project was not original, but instead a debtor of international logics and contacts.

At this point, it is crucial to remember the importance of a group of individuals who asserted themselves as a supporting platform for the processes of Public Administration reform. Strongly internationalised, aware of the need for national administrative modernisation and a recurring presence in international bodies linked to the study of administrative sciences, these actors were the contact point between the aforementioned international networks and the Portuguese Public Administration.

However, despite assimilating international experiences and following the main lines developed abroad, the Portuguese Administrative Reform was subject to the priorities of the regime. While, internationally, improving the performance of public administrations was theoretically presented as a factor for the strengthening of democratic regimes, Portugal needed an efficient administration to maintain the dictatorship and overseas territories. Based on a set of frameworks that comprehended and supported the need to improve the administrative machinery of the State, the process of reform of the Portuguese Public Administration designed in the late 1960s and early 1970s used, in this way, international lines to meet national targets, combining economic and social development with the maintenance of the regime.


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1The term "Glorious Thirty" refers to the years between the end of the Second World War and the first half of the 1970s, which were characterized by an economic growth that was unprecedented in the 20th century. The period is also dubbed "The Golden Age”, as defined by Eric Hobsbawn.

2These influences can be verified in articles on the administrative reforms carried out in several countries, which can be found in the International Review of Administrative Sciences, an IIAS journal.

3Information compiled in the 17 issues of the journal Ciências Administrativas, Boletim do Instituto Português de Ciências Administrativas, between 1969 and 1973.

[Translated version] Note: All quotes in English translated by this article’s translator.

This research was financed by National Funds through FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology within the scope of the Post-Doctoral Grant SFRH/BPD/113250/2015 and of the project UID/HIS/04209/2019.

Received: May 24, 2018; Accepted: January 10, 2019

Ana Carina Azevedo - Doctorate in History and researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History, School of Social Sciences and Humanities of the NOVA University of Lisbon. E-mail:

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