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Y
THE ETHICS CHALLENGE
IN PUBLIC SERVICE
A Problem-Solving Guide
SECOND EDITION
Carol W. Lewis
Stuart C. Gilman
Y
THE ETHICS CHALLENGE
IN PUBLIC SERVICE
A Problem-Solving Guide
SECOND EDITION
Carol W. Lewis
Stuart C. Gilman
Copyright © 2005 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lewis, Carol W. (Carol Weiss), 1946The ethics challenge in public service : a problem-solving guide / by Carol W. Lewis, Stuart C. Gilman.—
2nd ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7879-6756-4 (alk. paper)
1. Civil service ethics—United States. I. Gilman, Stuart. II. Title.
JK468.E7L49 2005
172’.2’0973—dc22
2004028269
Printed in the United States of America
SECOND EDITION
HB Printing 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
CONTENTS
Exhibits, Tables, and Figures
Preface
v
ix
Acknowledgments
The Authors
xv
xvii
Introduction: Ethics in Public Service
1
PART ONE: ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF PUBLIC MANAGERS
19
1 What Is Important in Public Service? 21
2 Obeying and Implementing the Law
3 Serving the Public Interest
52
73
4 Taking Individual Responsibility
98
iii
iv
Contents
PART TWO: TOOLS FOR PERSONAL DECISION MAKING
119
5 Finding Solid Ground: Ethical Standards and Reasoning
121
6 Resolving Ethical Dilemmas: Strategies and Tactics for Managers 141
7 Understanding Who and What Matters: Stakeholder Analysis
PART THREE: ETHICS AND THE ORGANIZATION
8 Designing and Implementing Codes
9 Broadening the Horizon
185
220
10 Building an Ethical Agency
Afterword: The Job Ahead
183
235
269
Resource A: Chronology of Theoretical and Applied Ethics
in Public Service (Work in Process) 272
Resource B: Selected Internet Resources
301
Resource C: Tools for Making Ethical Decisions
References
322
Name Index
343
Subject Index
349
313
161
EXHIBITS, TABLES, AND FIGURES
Exhibits
I.1.
I.2.
1.1.
1.2.
1.3.
1.4.
1.5.
2.1.
2.2.
2.3.
2.4.
3.1.
3.2.
3.3.
3.4.
3.5.
3.6.
3.7.
3.8.
Cutbacks and Priorities 4
Would I? Should I? 7
Average Is Not Good Enough 28
D+P+E=Iii 38
Values and Standards in Public Service 39
Waiving the Right to Sue 44
Earnings Figure into Calculation 48
Pledge of the Athenian City-State 54
Federal Appointment Affidavits 55
To Obey or Not to Obey! 60
Using the Go/No-Go Decision Model 66
Pursue the Public Interest 75
From Bounty to Booty 78
Read All About It 82
NYC Conflict-of-Interest Board’s Ethics Guide for Public Servants 84
From Montgomery County’s Ethics Code 85
Appearance of Impropriety 86
Public Works 90
Audit Decisions Against Four Standards 93
v
vi
Exhibits, Tables, and Figures
3.9. Snapshot of the Red Cross 94
4.1. The Tragedy of Mission STS-107 101
4.2. Should the Agency Head Resign? 107
4.3. Improvising a Homeland Defense 108
4.4. Getting the Facts 109
5.1. How Do I Make Ethical Choices? 123
5.2. Tough Call 124
5.3. Everyday Use of Philosophical Perspectives 125
5.4. Ethical Perspectives in Action 127
5.5. Ethical Traditions 128
5.6. Presidential Explanation 133
6.1. Decision-Making Checklist 146
6.2. Doing Public Service 148
6.3. Rank Responsibilities 150
6.4. Use Threshold Test 151
6.5. Ethics Responsibility Statement 156
6.6. Test Ethical Decisions 157
7.1. Stakeholder Diagnostic 165
7.2. Creatively Lead 170
7.3. Drawing the Line 172
7.4. Before You Blow 178
8.1. Code for U.S. Postal Workers, 1829 186
8.2. Workable and Effective Standards of Conduct 194
8.3. State Ethics Standards, 2003 200
8.4. Ethics, Duty, and Freedom of Speech 203
8.5. Excerpt from a Model Municipal Code 207
9.1. Great Britain’s Seven Principles of Public Life, 2001 223
9.2. Article III of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption 225
9.3. OECD’s Ethics Checklist 226
9.4. OECD on Conflict of Interest, 2004 228
9.5. South Africa’s Public Service Commission 230
10.1. Arrogance in the Public Interest 237
10.2. Just Say No 242
10.3. Hardly Neutral 249
10.4. Intervention Techniques for Integrating Ethics into Agency Operations 250
10.5. Rules of Thumb 256
A.1. Values and Vision for the Twenty-First Century 271
Exhibits, Tables, and Figures
vii
Tables
5.1. Touching Six Bases 132
5.2. Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development 135
Figures
I.1. The Public-Private Continuum 10
1.1. Trust in Government Index, 1958–2002 24
1.2. Confidence and Trust in Government to Handle Problems 26
1.3. Rating on Honesty and Ethical Standards 27
1.4. Role Diagnosis 32
1.5. Ethical Values Are the Core of Personal Integrity 35
1.6. Diagnostic: What Shape Are We In? 41
2.1. Spirit and Challenge of Public Service 57
2.2. Go/No-Go Decision Model 65
5.1. Self-Centered Rationalization Is a Sorry Substitute for Ethical Reasoning 127
6.1. Abbreviated Decision-Making Model 146
6.2. Decision Makers Use a Framework to Sort and Accept Ethical Claims 149
7.1. Expansive Reach of Public Service 163
7.2. Connect the Dots 169
8.1. Different Approaches to Standards of Conduct 187
10.1. Ethics Impact Statement and Process 258
To our colleagues and students
PREFACE
W
hy write a second edition of The Ethics Challenge in Public Service? In his Metamorphoses, Ovid tells us that “omnia mutantu” (everything changes). Much has
changed since this book’s initial publication. Then why not just write a completely
new book? Our historical perspective also reminds us that plus ça change, plus c’est la
même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same). So we opted for writing an update and taking a broader look across time and around the profession and
the globe. The breadth of the undertaking, the pace and volume of change, and the
value we place on intellectual exchange explain why we decided to collaborate in this
effort.
This book’s subject is managing in—not moralizing about—today’s public service. It is written for professional managers in public agencies, where unprecedented
demands for ethical judgment and decisive action resound at increasingly higher decibel levels.
Yet there is something about ethics that triggers nostalgia. It seems that people
are not what they were. Except for classical music (the golden oldies of rock), ethics is
the only subject we know of that sets off a yearning for the old days in young and old,
public servants and private citizens alike.
Some argue that World War II was a watershed; after that war, moral decay set
in. Others single out the political activists and hippies of the 1960s—beaded and
bearded youths who pointed disrespectfully at their parents and political leaders
and today symbolize intergenerational conflict, lack of self-discipline, and rejection
ix
x
Preface
of community standards. Still others cite the baby boomers—grown into yuppies by
the 1980s—who drove Ivan Boesky’s ethic “Greed is good” to its limits and faxed us
new national symbols of greed and corruption. Then the century turns, and we discover low ethics in high places: scandals rock boardrooms, bedrooms, Wall Street, and
Sunbelt freeways. Along Washington’s Beltway, defense procurement attracts procurers, and federal programs fall to the fixers.
Common wisdom has it that a pervasive disillusionment and loss of confidence
touch political, economic, and even religious leaders and institutions on America’s
Main Street. Bill Moyers (1988, pp. 81–82) captured the perceived change by quoting
two well-known sports ethics. The 1920s coached, “It is not that you won or lost but
how you played the game.” By the 1960s, the coaching outlook had become “Winning
isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
Is behavior today better or worse? Is there more corruption in government and
society generally? Is moral character—that ingrained sense of right and wrong—a
thing of the past? There really is no evidence either way, except through anecdotes,
media images, and public opinion polls. More important (and the reason these questions are not confronted with evidence and argument in this book) is that the answers are intellectually interesting but practically irrelevant to managers in public
service. First, we have no choice but to depend on the moral character of public managers and employees. Our whole system is built on the premise that they have good
character. Second, to work at all, public managers must work with what is here now.
Nostalgia contributes nothing to daily operations; it solves no ethical problems on
the job.
We would argue that public service attracts a special breed and that the majority of the many millions of practicing and aspiring public managers and employees
are well intentioned and do bring good moral character to public service. It is the
job itself—the ambiguous, complex, pressured world of public service—that presents special problems for ethical people who want to do the right thing. The job is a
site that reinforces moral character and engages adults in a dialogue about ethics where
it counts. And count it does, for supervisors, subordinates, colleagues, citizens, taxpayers, people around the world, and generations to come.
Our Approach to the Challenge
Given our purpose of promoting ethical practice and assisting ethical managers in
making ethical decisions, we opt for a managerial perspective. The Ethics Challenge in
Public Service is designed for managers and is meant to be a shortcut through a mass
of information and alternatives. We chose issues according to our assessment of their
current and future managerial impact rather than academic coinage or strictly philosophical import.
Preface
xi
Our method is, first, to link good character with the special values and principles that distinguish public from personal ethics. The spirit of informed individual
judgment pervades our arguments, and the same rationalist approach obligates us to
provide readers with some explanations of inclusions, omissions, emphases, and biases. We assume the following:
• Public ethics is different from personal ethics.
• The dominant values and guiding principles are different.
• The burdens are heavier.
Second, we provide practical tools and techniques for resolving workaday dilemmas at the individual and agency levels. Third, our purpose is to help ethical managers
structure the work environment so that it fosters ethical behavior and eases the transition of good intentions into meaningful action in the agency.
The cases included here illustrate problems or are test runs in applied problem
solving. They allow readers to practice in private (and at no public cost) until, following Aristotle, ethics becomes a habit. The cases exercise the two-step by requiring:
(1) informed, systematic reasoning and (2) followed by action. The open-ended questions encourage analysis, and other questions force decision making. Some resolutions
depend on empathy and imagination. Cases work best when readers alter decision
premises and circumstances to double-check ethical judgments or reconcile different
philosophical perspectives. The cases, like the book, are driven by democratic processes,
for which accommodation is the vehicle and tolerance the grease.
Overview of the Contents
This book offers some tools and techniques that professional public managers can use
to meet the demands for making ethical judgments and taking decisive action on the
job. In sum, what counts? What is at stake? How can managers ensure ethical survival
and professional success? Veterans and rookies alike may wonder now and then, Are
both possible? The answer here is an emphatic yes. We argue that ethics and genuine
success march together.
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service examines these questions in terms of managerial realities and their ethical dimensions, which together shape the book’s structure.
The Introduction offers readers a look at ethical issues encountered on the job and
in the profession. In Part One, public service ethics is rooted in moral character and
anchored in ethical values and principle. Chapter One distinguishes public service
ethics from personal morality and shows how contending values and many crosspressures translate into a personally demanding, ambiguous, complex context for everyday decision making. One of public service’s special ethical claims on the manager is
xii
Preface
to implement and comply with the law; an elementary decision-making model given
in Chapter Two helps decision makers act on legal obligations without devaluing other
considerations. The obligation of serving the public interest entails empathy, as well
as respect, for future generations and spawns the public service standards regarding
conflict of interest, impartiality, and the appearance of impropriety under public
scrutiny (Chapter Three). Combined with the idea of individual responsibility, these
obligations are converted, in Chapter Four, into general guides to action for managers
who work in an organizational context: individual responsibility for decisions and
behavior, for what is done and how, and for professional competence. The obligations
and action guides are the ethical underpinnings for doing public service.
The earlier chapters expose the problems, conflicts, and claims shouldered by the
public manager. Now the task, in Part Two, is to provide tools for reconciling and sorting them ethically. In these chapters, we discuss individual managers who make ethical decisions and live with the consequences. Ethical reasoning is grounded in
commonsense and different philosophical perspectives that lead to varying outlooks
on what is important in particular decisions; experience and political tradition advise impartiality and open-mindedness over ethical extremism (Chapter Five). Using
a decision-making model that allows for contending viewpoints and values, managers
gear up for fact finding, accommodating, and making selective trade-offs that lead to
the informed, principled choices managers must make (Chapter Six). The obligation
to avoid doing harm is reconciled with collective action and selective action. Practical
tools and techniques for resolving workaday dilemmas help answer questions about
what counts (obligations and responsibilities in Chapter Six) and who counts (stakeholders in Chapter Seven). Ethical managers are counted as well, and principled discrimination in responding to ethical offenses equips managers to discount trivialities
and survive professionally, with integrity intact (Chapter Seven).
Moving from the individual to the organization, Part Three looks at ethics in
the agency. Ethics codes and ethics systems—their functions, development, and management—in all their variety, are benchmarks for the current record and forecasts of
things to come (Chapter Eight). What can professional public managers learn from
the global movement in public service ethics? Chapter Nine offers a glance at colleagues in other administrative settings so that we may better understand and appreciate our own. A look around at the global context is an efficient way to push back
boundaries and a useful way to trigger the moral imagination. In Chapter Ten, the supervisory function—a central managerial responsibility—turns the spotlight on organizational interaction. In a host of ways, including modeling, the manager shapes
ethical conduct and the ethical organization. Supervising employee time is an ongoing stress point and demands special care. Workforce diversity, alternate recruitment
channels, mixed administrative settings, and collaborative relationships, illustrated by
Preface
xiii
the procurement function, are among the current challenges (Chapter Ten). Chapter
Ten argues that routine agency operations set the organization’s ethical tone, and these
operations can be structured to support and promote ethical action.
Throughout, The Ethics Challenge in Public Service pays special attention to what lies
ahead on the manager’s agenda; with an eye on the future, the Afterword draws together the book’s major themes.
January 2005
Carol W. Lewis
Storrs, Connecticut
Stuart C. Gilman
Manassas, Virginia
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
N
ow to the customary IOUs, which are heartfelt. A fitting start is to acknowledge
the many individual and institutional contributors to the first edition. Foremost
among these are the University of Connecticut, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), Bayard L. Catron, professor emeritus at George Washington
University, and the many practitioners, professors, and students who contributed in
so many ways.
The University of Connecticut and the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) supported
the second edition with words and resources, and we are grateful for both. The University of Connecticut’s Roper Center and its staff provided guidance and survey data;
many practitioners in numerous forums, as well as students in academic settings, willingly provided feedback on cases and exercises. Brian Baird, a doctoral student in engineering at the University of Connecticut and research assistant in the Connecticut
Center for Economic Analysis, deserves a special salute for his graphics work. As a
graduate student in the master’s of public administration program at the University
of Connecticut, Jason Guilietti enthusiastically assisted with research. The ERC staff ’s
support is much appreciated.
An overview of practices and purposes cannot be written in glorious isolation,
off in an ivory tower that is reputedly unaffected by deferred maintenance or other
realities. Our deep appreciation is extended to individual managers and academics
throughout the country and abroad who responded generously to requests or volunteered assistance. Government offices on many continents, state and local ethics
xv
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Acknowledgments
commissions, public interest groups, professional associations, private research groups,
consulting firms, and individual authors responded to requests for information or research materials. By their very nature, citations note only those contributions ultimately
incorporated, but broad assistance nourished the project.
By combining kindness with criticism, the colleagues, friends, and family who read
parts of the draft manuscript confirm what we have long suspected: public service is
part diplomacy. Bayard L. Catron, Morton J. Tenzer, James R. Heichelbech, George
H. Frederickson, Richard Vengroff, Robert Bifulco, Elizabeth Keller, Charles Fox,
Alexis Halley, and others offered perceptive comments and valuable suggestions.
It is standard practice among authors who draw on so many resources, contributors, and talents to close with a disclaimer on behalf of others and to take the responsibility for errors, omissions, and choices solely on themselves. Doing so is easy
here, simply because it is not a formality but a statement of fact. And with a subject
such as ethics, which is open to nuance, bias, opinion, and contention, there are not
so many facts that such an important one should be discounted.
THE AUTHORS
C
arol W. Lewis is professor of political science at the University of Connecticut,
where she teaches ethics, public budgeting, and public administration. A Phi Beta
Kappa graduate of Cornell, she received her B.A. (1967) degree in government. Her
M.A. (1970) and Ph.D. (1975) degrees in politics are from Princeton University. Lewis’s
teaching and research interests include public budgeting and financial management
and ethics in public service.
Lewis has taught in colleges and universities in four states, lectured to scholars
and practitioners nationally and internationally, and conducted training programs for
public managers in many locales. As consultant or project member, she has worked
with the World Bank, International Institute of Administrative Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration, cross-national projects with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and government agencies at all levels.
Lewis has designed and delivered ethics programs for numerous government
agencies, public interest organizations, and professional associations. Examples include the Brookings Institution, Council of State Governments, Connecticut General
Assembly, International Personnel Management Association, Government Finance
Officers Association, National Association of State Training and Development Directors (regional and state), and other associations in her home and other states.
Writing for professional managers, Lewis has published in Public Manager, the
Council on Governmental Ethics Laws’ Guardian, the Government Finance Officers
Association’s Government Finance Review, and the International City Management
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The Authors
Association’s Municipal Year Book and Public Management. Her popular publications on
ethics include articles in the Hartford Courant. Her numerous scholarly articles have appeared in Public Administration Review, Urban Affairs Quarterly, Municipal Finance Journal,
Publius, and other journals. She is coeditor of several books and handbooks for practitioners and the author of Scruples & Scandals: A Handbook on Public Service Ethics for State
and Local Government Officials and Employees in Connecticut (1986).
As a state employee, elected union representative, consultant, trainer, writer, professor, and former public official in elective office, Lewis confronts many issues addressed in this book firsthand.
Stuart C. Gilman is an independent consultant in Washington, D.C. He is a 1970 graduate of the University of New Orleans and received his M.A. in 1971 and Ph.D. in
1974 in political science from Miami University. He completed postdoctoral work at the
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, the University of Virginia, and the Senior Managers in Government Program at Harvard
University. Gilman taught at Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Richmond,
and Saint Louis University. Subsequently, he served as Professor of Ethics and Public
Policy at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia. He also held adjunct
professorships at Georgetown University and George Washington University.
Appointed the first associate director for education at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in 1988, Gilman subsequently served as director of strategic development
for the U.S. Treasury’s inspector general for tax and as president of the Ethics Resource Center. He has been an ethics consultant for state governments and federal
agencies and for large corporations and nonprofit organizations, as well as multinational organizations such as the World Bank. Gilman has been an ethics consultant for
governments as diverse as Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Argentina, and Romania, New
Zealand, and the Philippines.
Gilman is a recipient of many awards, including the OGE Director’s Award for
exemplary work in international anticorruption efforts, and awards for excellence and
individual accomplishment from the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency.
Gilman has coauthored several books and monographs and contributed to many
journals, including Public Integrity, The ANNALS, Public Administration Review, Government, Law and Public Policy, The Public Manager, the Journal of Public Inquiry, Ethikos, and
Practising Manager (Australia).
As an ethics practitioner, Gilman has worked with individuals confronting a variety of ethical dilemmas and problems, from line procurement officials to cabinet secretaries and from prime ministers to local judges and prosecutors. Experienced as he
is in the trenches, he understands how important ethics is to public administrators.
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
Y
INTRODUCTION
Ethics in Public Service
E
thics and genuine professional success go together in the enterprise called public
service. How? Why? The answers stem from the links between ethics and professionalism in a democracy. So, we begin here by examining the meaning of ethics and
professionalism—a few definitions mean we talk the same language. Then we take a hard
look at public service’s track record on these matters. (See Resource A for a chronology of major developments in ethics; Resource B offers readers Internet resources.)
Next, we lay out our own approach to the future by drawing on professional public service’s tradition, experience, and current agenda. Our approach blends two standard ones: (1) using compliance measures and (2) depending on individual integrity
in decision making. We recommend combining the two into a fusion approach (see the
compilation of our decision-making tools in Resource C), based on the idea that public service and public employees will both be better served when management chooses
the best of both approaches and uses them to move forward with all deliberate speed.
Now, we set the stage for action with some hard questions from real workaday
experience:
• Scuttlebutt has it that the new facility in the state-sponsored industrial park is structurally unsound. Maria, the town’s building inspector, mulls over doing and saying
nothing because it’s not her job and the town’s tax base certainly could use a boost;
besides, she could be wrong.
1
2
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
• Learning that an HIV-positive client refuses to tell or protect the partner and being
torn in different directions by law, confidentiality, public safety, and compassion,
Bill considers quitting or just settling for a serious case of burnout.
• Your coworker’s personal troubles are affecting his work performance. You understand that his irritability and unreliability are temporary, stemming from a messy divorce. Staying late to help finish his monthly reports, you feel your resentment build,
and you wonder whether covering for him is good for the agency and fair to you.
• A town ordinance forbids more than four unrelated people to share common living quarters. Verifying a neighbor’s complaint on a site visit, you discover a somewhat unorthodox domestic setup by otherwise law-abiding adults. Their lifestyle
appears to offend the neighbor. After years in the health department, you know ordinances like these have not stood up in court. Do you start eviction proceedings?
What is the right thing to do? What makes a problem your responsibility, a resolution your obligation? What does the difference between helping someone and not
hurting someone mean on the job? What is the right thing to do when the rules
push one way and reason or compassion another?
And here is another dilemma:
• The legislature is giving your agency its “fair share”: an across-the-board budget
cut. Because you have seen to it that your agency is very efficient, it is hard to absorb a cut like this. As the current fiscal year draws to a close, you confirm that there
are unexpended funds in an appropriation account. You remember how your first
boss ran up the postage meter to buy some slack at the end of the fiscal year.
Where do loyalties lie? When good management is penalized, should a responsible
manager circumvent shortsighted economies to protect the agency, its mission, its
employees, and service recipients? If an action is legal, does that make it ethical?
About 15 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force works for the government. Of
these 21.5 million workers, 23 percent are employed by state and 64 percent by local
governments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 56 percent (7.7
million) of all local government employees and 46 percent (2.3 million) of all state government employees work in elementary, secondary, and higher education. The economic downturns in the late 1980s and early 2000s hurt government budgets and
public programs, including education, across the country.
An earlier fiscal crisis offers a partial glimpse of the impact of budget cutting. A
senior human resource manager in New York City’s education headquarters describes
her most painful memory. In the city’s fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s, her division ranked
teachers by seniority in their licensed subject, prepared layoff letters, and listened to
Introduction
3
pleas and objections. Among the sixteen thousand laid off, there had to be personal
tragedies and disrupted lives. The manager said, “I would not have the emotional stamina to live through that again” (Berger, 1990, p. B2).
If pain is not a good-bad meter, how do you know that what you are doing is right?
“What am I doing, keeping my job and firing operational employees? What is the
agency’s purpose, after all?” What is the difference between what is right and what
is easy? How do you cope when the job requires dirty work? How do you survive
budget-crunch pressures?
The exercise in Exhibit I.1 speaks to the moral content and moral challenge in
these types of decisions, and illustrates the power that professional public managers
exercise over people’s lives.
Public service, which is crucial to society’s smooth functioning, sometimes calls for
watchful if not downright adversarial relations. Government regulators keep an eye on
public land, airwaves, health, safety, and more. Contract compliance officers in the U.S.
Department of Defense (DOD) oversee hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Policy analysts connect the dots between legislation and implementation. However, public service often comes up short on rewards when whistle-blowers sound alarms about
waste, fraud, and abuse in government agencies. They may even find their complaints
in limbo, as relatively small staffs are swamped by rising workloads. At the U.S. Office
of Special Counsel, disclosures increased by almost 50 percent after October 1991, to
555 filings in fiscal 2002. But disclosures don’t necessarily result in action. “It’s like calling 911 and being put on hold.” “Hundreds of federal employees risk their careers to
blow the whistle, only to find that no one is home to hear it” (Branigan, 2003, p. A4).
Some face threats to their career or even their life (Egan, 1990, p. A20). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ chief actuary for Medicare costs reported in
2004 that “administration officials threatened to fire him last year if he disclosed to
Congress that he believed the prescription drug legislation favored by the White House
would prove far more expensive than lawmakers had been told.” He said “he nearly resigned in protest because he thought the top Medicare administrator, and perhaps White
House officials, were acting against the public interest by withholding information about
how much changes to the program would cost” (Goldstein, 2004, p. A1).
If threats and supervisors’ approval are no barometers, how do you know you are right?
Who is the client and who are the stakeholders? Why buck the system? How do you decide
whether to blow the whistle or keep quiet? How do you know what is in the public interest?
Relentless pressures and the need for quick decisions are routine in public service.
Because the choices truly matter for everyone, including the public manager, this book
examines dilemmas like these and offers some resolutions.
4
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
EXHIBIT I.1. CUTBACKS AND PRIORITIES.
Cutback . . . retrenchment . . . downsizing . . . this technical jargon actually translates into withholding help—someone or something is going to lose help or get less.
The challenge is to choose in a way that is (1) ethically principled, (2) legal, (3) politically accountable, (4) publicly and personally defensible, (5) professionally credible
and conforming to best practices, and (6) fiscally and managerially prudent.
Problem. An unexpected drop in state revenue dictates taking immediate steps to
avoid a deficit. In a strategy session, legislative leadership develops guidelines and
asks you, a professional analyst in the nonpartisan office, to use them to rank several programs and recommend cuts.
Priorities. (Priorities are adapted from a letter of December 4, 1990, from Connecticut Office of Policy and Management’s Secretary-designate Wm. J. Cibes, Jr., to
agency heads.) These are leadership’s priorities for evaluating programs.
A. Essential to preserve life in long or short term
B. Provide for health and safety
C. Avoid significant future harm
D. Prevent more costly services in future
E. Contribute to state’s fiscal health or revenues
F. Maintain or enhance quality of life
G. Obsolete, duplicative, ineffective (alternatives are available or better)
Step #1. Evaluate policies using priorities A to G.
Step #2. Rank policies from critical (5) to worthy (3) to good target for cut (1).
A-G
1–5 (Letters and numbers may be used more than once.)
_____ _____ 1. Disaster relief (food, water) for victims’ immediate use
_____ _____ 2. Support for water quality inspection teams
_____ _____ 3. Computer link to speed processing of vendor and third-party payments (and avoid charges for late payment)
_____ _____ 4. Funding ambulance and rescue services at subsidized charge to
user
_____ _____ 5. Scheduled pay increases for government employees
_____ _____ 6. Computer security to protect confidentiality of personal records
(client, employee)
_____ _____ 7. Serving general obligation bonds
_____ _____ 8. Upkeep of parks and recreational areas
1. Assume funding is zero or 100 percent. Select two programs to be cut (from
among the programs you ranked “1” or “2”).
# _____
# _____
Reason for choice:
Reason for choice:
2. Are you willing to defend these choices publicly?
3. Is something important missing? What else should we think about?
Introduction
5
The Problem
In one form or another, the problem described in the exercise is probably familiar
to most public service practitioners. In this example, the task is to recommend immediate steps to counter an impending budget shortfall, and targeting programs
to eliminate amounts to withdrawing or denying help. Although individuals opposing certain steps mistakenly or cynically may confuse not helping with purposefully
doing harm, it is in fact a very different matter. Avoiding doing harm is the customary minimum ethical duty. But it is also true that someone or something is going to
lose help or get less of it. The first option illustrates how moral responsibility often is
seen as especially forceful and urgent in matters of life and death or acute, immediate need. Disaster relief therefore may be assigned an “A” or “B” and ranked a “5,”
meaning that many decision makers will not tolerate this option.
Budgetary measures and fiscal policies through which scarce resources are allocated and costs distributed carry significant moral content. They pronounce the
moral judgments that are very much a part of the answer to the classic question
posed by V. O. Key, Jr.: “On what basis shall it be decided to allocate X dollars to
Activity A instead of activity B?” (Key, 1940). While Key opted for an efficiency criterion, decision makers working through this exercise may find themselves thinking
about the people who would be affected, and how. Can they survive the cut? Are
we breaking a law or a promise?
Ethical Analysis of Options
The options laid out here speak to ethical issues and claims. The third option of the
computer link illustrates how economy so often crowds out efficiency when moral
imperatives come into play. Similar reasoning may affect the eighth item, which
also carries a substantial future price tag. The third and eighth options, neither involving urgent human harm, were routinely the majority choices in numerous programs conducted by the authors with several thousand practitioners in federal,
state, and local government and nonprofit organizations.
The eighth and second options raise questions of stewardship—for whom is
the professional administrator a fiduciary? Should anyone speak for the voiceless,
future stakeholders? Yet, doesn’t this stance dilute immediate democratic responsiveness and accountability? If someone should act as steward, then who? The
eighth option also stands for the familiar choice of deferred maintenance, perhaps
made relatively palatable by the arguable proposition that current damage can be
undone and the harm is temporary at worst.
The fifth option illustrates two main lines of ethical thought—one based on
duty and principles, the other grounded in results or consequences. Because denying the salary increase is not itself life-threatening, it may be preferred by decision
makers who value consequences; others, more influenced by principles, may reject
the fifth option because of the implied broken promise. (The promise-breaking suggests why like choices may trigger a sense of betrayal and moral outrage.)
The seventh choice evokes another promise—implicitly or explicitly sworn—to
comply with the law when acting in one’s official capacity. Legal compliance, with
constitutional obligations at its core, affects both procedural and substantive responsibilities (Rohr, 1989, and Rosenbloom, 1992). Long-term bonded indebtedness represents a legally binding commitment but also prompts consideration of
intergenerational equity and higher future costs.
The sixth option points to the concern with information integrity and confidentiality. Considerations of privacy and confidentiality are especially productive
sources of ethical dilemmas (and prohibitions) today because of accelerating technological capacity, but also and more fundamentally because they stand as a first
line of defense against using people as objects, or instrumentally. For example,
6
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
Chicago’s ethics ordinance (Chapter 2, 156–070 of municipal code) specifically addresses the issue of confidential information.
No current or former official or employee shall use or disclose, other than in
the performance of his official duties and responsibilities, or as may be required by law, confidential information gained in the course of or by reason
of his position or employment. For purposes of this section, “confidential information” means any information that may not be obtained pursuant to the
Illinois Freedom of Information Act, as amended.
Reprinted by permission of Marcel Dekker. C. W. Lewis, “Ethics in Public Service.” In J. Rabin,
R. Munzenrider, and S. M. Bartell (eds.), Principles and Practices of Public Administration. New York:
Marcell Dekker, 2003b.
Working Definitions
Public sector managers routinely do their jobs, solve problems, and even work some
miracles. And they practice ethics besides. Personal, professional, and public expectations converge to challenge managers who voice and resolve both routine and emergency ethical problems. Ethical action is another part of the job.
Only a few definitions are needed so that we can begin a meaningful, practical dialogue. First, ethics involves thinking systematically about morals and conduct and making moral choices about right and wrong (making moral judgments) when faced with
ethical dilemmas. Moral choice and moral judgment are explored in Exhibit I.2.
What makes ethics so important to public service is that it goes beyond thought
and talk to performance and action. As a guideline for action, ethics draws on what is
right and important, or “abstract standards that persist over time and that identify
what is right and proper” (Boling and Dempsey, 1981, p. 14). Rooted in the idea of responsibility, ethics implies the willingness to accept the consequences of one’s actions.
Ethics also refers to principles of action that implement or promote moral values.
Moral character means having appropriate ethical values and is associated with attributes such as honesty and fidelity. Character is a sort of internal gyroscope that helps
a person distinguish right from wrong and inhibits wrongdoing. Bringing their moral
character to the job, ethical managers do a two-step: (1) they use informed, systematic
reasoning and (2) follow it by action.
In sum, the subject of ethics is action based on judgments of right and wrong.
Three questions summarize the subject’s pragmatic underpinnings: (1) What counts
in public service? (2) What is at stake? and (3) How can managers ensure professional success and ethical survival? Finer distinctions and elegant terminology are available for conceptual clarification, but they threaten to bury the subject in semantics,
killing interest, along with utility, for practical managers who are more concerned with
deeds than definitions.
Introduction
7
EXHIBIT I.2. WOULD I? SHOULD I?
Begin by reading the four scenarios, and answer each with a yes or no on the chart
below. Please be spontaneous, go with your gut feel, and be candid. Then answer
the two questions below the table.
1. Driving a government vehicle on the most direct route to a late-morning meeting in another town, you pass within a block of a store holding a personal package for you. For efficiency’s sake, do you stop by to pick it up?
2. An irresponsible and disagreeable employee is looking for a job in the private
sector. To get rid of this person, do you agree to provide a positive reference?
3. Substantiated charges come to light that the likely appointee to the assistant
commissioner position (who has public support and political backing) was denied visitation rights because of child abuse a few years ago. Do you advise your
new chief to go ahead with the appointment?
4. Through personal business channels, you are privy to information that is not
publicly known about a parcel of land your agency is considering for a development program. The information would save the state a material sum now and
big headaches later. Because the public interest is at stake, along with your professional standing, do you privately tip off the commissioner?
Would I
do this?
Should I
do this?
Would others
do this?*
1. Do personal errand
Write
yes or no
for each
scenario
2. Write reference
3. Recommend appointment
4. Tip off
*If you think some would, then write in yes. If you don’t think this happens now and again, then
write in no.
1. Are your responses the same across each row?
This enterprise demonstrates moral choice—the would-should divide, the heart of
good moral character to which most of us are exposed as children. The mama test
(what mama would have said) clarifies simple choices between right and wrong.
But adults must make moral judgments when they find themselves between the
rock and the hard place of incongruent duties and conflicting claims—the stuff
of ethical dilemmas. Unfamiliar situations, organizational and technological impersonality, and professional and public power intensify pressures.
This exercise illustrates that decision making turns on several factors:
•
•
•
•
Ethical, legal, and pragmatic considerations
Others’ likely motive
One’s own concern (seriousness of the ethical issue or offense)
Price tag: considerations of career, cost, convenience, competence, commitment, and courage.
2. Does the last column have more yes responses than the other columns?
8
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
Discussion
As you work through the cases, you may notice that the problems get tougher and
more complicated, until the later cases propel you between that rock and a hard
place of incongruent claims and competing ethical ideas.
The first case speaks to the experience that for many government employees,
using a government vehicle (because of rules on gifts and travel reimbursements)
triggers impatience, annoyance, or even outrage over petty controls. But it is not
an ethical dilemma. It is a relatively simple choice between right versus wrong, virtue
versus vice. In fact, many statutes and ordinances restrict the use of public resources
and expressly prohibit the use of government cars for personal use. Here we are talking price tag that may surface as courage, or career, or cost considerations. Here it is
personal convenience. Perhaps because it is relatively trivial—not earth-shattering,
not arousing human urgency—it’s been known to happen—probably is happening
somewhere at this moment. Apparently using a cost-to-benefit-to-risk ratio precisely
the opposite of a scoundrel’s, even ethical people may slip into compromise over
seemingly trivial matters.
The first question asks, “Are your responses the same across each row?” Usually, the answer is no. The “Would I?–Should I?” divide captures the heart of good
moral character to which most of us are exposed as children, when we learn fundamental ethical perspectives. Because there’s probably very little anyone can tell you
about these choices that you don’t already know, the mama test of disclosure is useful for simple moral choices.
How about writing a less-than-candid reference in the second case? Do you
think it’s ever done? This case is about evasion, lack of candor, perhaps even deception. It is different from the personal errand because it serves the organization
rather than the individual. Some people may try to justify it for that very reason.
Writing that reference may be useful, may be pragmatic, but it opposes ethical values such as telling the truth and taking responsibility.
Life in public service is not always so clear-cut and raises the need for ethical
judgment when facing ethical dilemmas that involve morally unacceptable options
or trade-offs. Four factors sum up the difference between childhood moral lessons
and the adult world: ambiguity, uncertainty, complexity, and responsibility. As a result, the would-should choice turns on ethical, legal, and practical concerns, attributed motivation, the weight of the ethical issues or offenses, and the price tag. (For
Plato’s classic example, see “Moral Dilemma,” 2001).
The third and fourth cases shove you squarely into that sometimes perplexing
adult world. The appointment case illustrates the special responsibilities associated
with public service, and how the need for public confidence and trust quickly blurs
the line between public and private lives as one becomes professionally more successful, more powerful, and more visible. In the appointment case, vulnerability
takes on a human face and vies with moral repugnance. This is a tough call, and
well-intentioned people of moral character may disagree.
The last case presents a painful dilemma in which the decision maker struggles
with competing obligations: professionalism faces off against the public interest.
What’s the right thing to do in this fourth case? Confusion? Complexity? Precisely.
Wrong versus wrong, right versus right, nuance, and judgment are what dilemmas
are all about. When it comes to dilemmas, information is especially productive because (1) accountability is so important in a democracy and relies on the honored
virtue of truth telling, and (2) because information is a pivotal resource in modern
governance. The case suggests that the price tag for either silence or disclosure may
Introduction
9
be quite high. Although ethical decision makers may disagree on what is the right
thing to do, the tip-off tactic is offensive because it annuls personal responsibility and
voids accountability.
Now take a look at the second question. Does your last column have more yes
responses than other columns? The “Would Others?” column translates into the
conventional view of ethics as the other person’s problem. People typically express
a belief that their own ethical standards are higher than other people’s, so we readily anticipate unethical behavior by others. The danger is that, in a search for an
excuse for our own unethical conduct, we may slip over the would-should divide
and argue “everybody is doing it” or self-defense. Because responsibility is fundamental to ethics, this is an ethically bankrupt argument.
The Scope of Public Service
Public service is doing and for that reason is better defined by its public mission—what
the manager is doing—than by legal statutes or other formal criteria. For our purposes,
public service refers to agencies and activities tending toward the public side of the continuum shown in Figure I.1. In actuality, there is no clear division between public and
private.
Embracing more than government service alone, public service includes quasigovernmental agencies and the many nonprofit organizations devoted to community
services and to the public interest (and often publicly funded, at least in part). The
many mixed activities and joint operations, such as public-private partnerships and
contractual relationships, turn on working with government and are also oriented
toward public service. In the United States, the nonprofit or independent sector encompasses all organizations that the IRS classifies as 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4). “This includes charitable nonprofit organizations; private, family, operating, community, and
corporate foundations; and organizations whose primary purpose is advocacy. We call
these the organizations of the independent sector” (INDEPENDENT SECTOR, 2004).
Almost 6 percent of U.S. organizations are nonprofits. They account for more than
9 percent of paid employees in the United States and more than two-thirds of a trillion dollars in annual revenue. Institutionally dominant, health services represent almost one-half of all U.S. nonprofits (INDEPENDENT SECTOR, 2002).
As a practical matter, there is no autonomous, isolated agency or activity that does
not respond to, interact with, or affect those all along the continuum between the public
and private sectors. Consider, for example, the following: taxation and corporate
decisions; business location and land-use regulation; immigration, government hiring,
and the labor pool; Social Security payments and consumer demand; and private
producers and government procurement. Most activities, most institutions, and most
resources fall between the polar extremes of purely governmental and purely private.
10
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
FIGURE I.1. THE PUBLIC-PRIVATE CONTINUUM.
Public
Private
midpoint
Use four criteria to position an agency on the continuum:
1. Formal source and nature of authority and accountability
2. Source of funding, including taxes, subsidy, marketplace
3. Function, mission, goal, purpose
4. IRS tax status
The first three criteria are of theoretical significance; the fourth is of practical importance.
Because public service is broader than government service, it may be useful to
take a moment to think over the status of your agency. Where is your agency on the
continuum? Are you a public manager? Should public service standards and obligations apply to you?
A Special Calling
Given their action orientation, savvy public managers logically ask what the point of
all the noise about public service ethics really is. Ideally, the point is to promote ethical practice and support ethical practitioners in public service and, through that, in
the larger society. Many people (that includes us) unashamedly believe that this purpose underlies most public managers’ choice of profession. Rational managers certainly are not in public service solely or even primarily for the money; other
inducements also draw them to the office.
That most public managers work to make a positive difference is a central tenet
of public service lore. Their goal is to have an impact on more than their own pocketbook. This attitude toward their work recalls President Kennedy’s famous line in his
1961 inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can
do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” For great and small matters, “May
I help you?” could be the public service mantra. The motive of wanting to make a difference means that optimism underlies action and progress is a premier purpose. The
hard part about working for the best, however, is knowing what “the best” is and then
doing it. This is what ethics is all about.
Introduction
11
Disabling or Empowering
Although belief in progress is a public service attribute, it does not cast public managers in the role of Don Quixote, tilting at imaginary windmills. It does not demand
that managers butt futilely against a brick wall. It pays, then, to begin by assessing the
situation, that is, finding out what managers actually face.
The profession is animated by the dual potential of ethics to either disable or empower managers. The concern with ethics has the potential for disabling managers if
it is used as a coercive control device, an exploitative tool, a subtle motivational gimmick, or a public relations scheme. Alternatively, the concern with ethics can empower
managers by promoting ethical practices, supporting ethical managers, and reinforcing accountability.
For many managers (and for us), the first set of possibilities cries out “Stop!” The
second signals a careful “Go!” Either way, ethics is “the new political symbol to change
controls over the bureaucracy,” as Vera Vogelsang-Coombs, a state-manager-turnedacademic in the mid-West, remarked in August of 1990. Ethics is more accurately seen
as a renewal rather than a radical departure from traditional practice. In its early years,
professional public administration in the United States had a strongly moralistic
dimension that had developed partly in revulsion against the partisan spoils system’s
blatant corruption.
Cynics may downgrade ethics, dismissing the whole business as a public relations
scheme, an alibi, or a handy tool for attacking opponents. At the other extreme are
the idealists who want to push too far, too fast. Their impassioned go-ahead usually
fails in public service in the United States. But the pragmatists, who back off and go
slowly, are aware that ethics proposals in public management can open the door to either misuse and abuse or to best practices.
Public Administration’s Track Record
The first step in figuring out how to get there from here is to pinpoint where we are
now. A brief review of public service’s experience with ethics helps us understand
where we stand now, how we arrived, and what that means. (For more on the development of public service ethics as an academic field, see Cooper, 2001.)
There are enough elements in management theory to support pragmatists’ caution about administrative ethics. Going back to our theoretical roots, we see that both
pre-World War I scientific management and the human relations school of the 1920s
and 1930s treated ethical concerns as they did workers: instrumentally, that is, to elicit
more productivity. Image, not ethics, was one big difference between the two; the machine vied with the biological organism as the model of a social organization. Chester
Barnard’s The Functions of the Executive, published in 1938 on the eve of World War II,
12
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
provides a much-cited argument for the instrumental approach to ethics for executives,
who should “deal effectively with the moral complexities of organizations without
being broken by the imposed problems of choice” (Stillman, 1984, p. 478).
The amoral machine won out in the dogma of public administration that dominates even today. A presidential committee’s report issued in 1937 epitomized that
view and recommended the establishment of the Executive Office of the President
(itself to become a powerful institution and a source of ethical and legal problems).
The report announced that “real efficiency . . . must be built into the structure of
government just as it is built into a piece of machinery” (Brownlow Committee, [1937]
1987, p. 92). That same year, a core statement of classical public administrative theory
enthroned a single overriding value by proclaiming efficiency “axiom number one” in
administration (Gulick, 1937).
Having settled on the primary value, public administration could ignore issues of
choice, values, and ethics. This was simple to do and comfortably in line with the original posture that neatly removed amoral, technical administration from value-laden
politics. The developing social sciences such as sociology, anthropology, psychology,
economics, and political science also contributed to the temporary triumph of amoral
public management. Social science nurtured a dichotomy between facts and values
and rejected the latter as unsuitable for scientific study. As a result, the positivists
ignored ethics.
Business Backdrop
When ethics was not banished entirely, the instrumental view held sway. This is hardly
surprising, considering the fact that business management was the primary source of
theories and empirical research. Much was lifted wholesale; efficiency dominated. With
respect to business ethics, “A critical ethical obligation . . . is to fulfill this basic business activity as efficiently as possible” (Rion, 1990, p. 46). The cardinal standard is getting the job done; all else is secondary. Initially, business served as the outright model
for public administration, and the mantle of the generic management expert was bestowed
on business experts. (Max Weber, to whom we owe much of what we know or believe about bureaucracy, judged the distinction between public and private meaningless for understanding bureaucratic authority.)
A letter from Chester Barnard to Senator Paul Douglas hints at the consequences.
Barnard declined for reasons of health and schedule to participate in the 1951 Senate hearings on establishing a governmental ethics commission. He wrote, “I have
no consistent and worked-out ideas on this subject although it is one to which I have
given a good deal of thought from time to time in connection with my experience both
in the Federal Government and in that of New Jersey.”
Introduction
13
Measured by talk (codes, conferences, publications, media coverage), ethics is a
hot topic in today’s corporate world. The Enron, Worldcom, and Tyco scandals in
2001 pushed it to the fore. Although many corporations already had active ethics programs, government law and regulation are forcing major changes. The Sarbanes-Oxley
Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission regulations on ethics, and the Federal
Sentencing Commission’s Guidelines on Organizational Sentencing have changed the
corporate view of ethical responsibilities. Many CEOs now see the purely instrumental
view of ethics so dominant throughout the twentieth century as both dangerous and
irresponsible.
Business management is not to be faulted for its influence on public management.
We—public service professionals and scholars—did it to ourselves. At the inception,
Woodrow Wilson (practitioner-scholar par excellence, popularly credited with founding
the field of public administration in the United States on his way to becoming president) firmly grounded professional public service in making government more “businesslike.” Administration, as “government in action” (Wilson, [1887] 1987, p. 11), was
formulated largely as a problem of science, technology, or businesslike management.
Yet at about the same time, Wilson ([1885] 1956, p. 187) reflected on the value of ethics:
Power and strict accountability for its use are the essential constituents of good government. A sense of highest responsibility, a dignifying and elevating sense of being
trusted, together with a consciousness of being in an official station so conspicuous
that no faithful discharge of duty can go unacknowledged and unrewarded and no
breach of trust undiscovered and unpunished—these are the influences, the only
influences, which foster practical, energetic and trustworthy statesmanship.
Rediscovery of the Ethical Enterprise
The private sector has standards, but that they diverge from public sector standards
somehow was overlooked. (The difference is not in underlying ethical values and principles but in the number of standards, their emphasis and priority, and the degree of
fastidious adherence to them.) Whether standards and aspirations are higher or lower
is not the issue here; it’s that they are different.
Perhaps this was forgotten in the rush to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit so
prominent in American myth. Coming from a business background, public service
would take decades to reorient and acknowledge that public and private management
are alike “in all unimportant respects” (Allison, 1987). As President Jimmy Carter notes
in Why Not the Best? (1976, p. 132),
Nowhere in the Constitution of the United States, or the Declaration of Independence, or the Bill of Rights, or the Emancipation Proclamation, or the Old
14
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
Testament or the New Testament, do you find the words “economy” or “efficiency.” Not that these words are unimportant. But you discover other words like
honesty, integrity, fairness, liberty, justice, patriotism, compassion, love—and many
others which describe what human beings ought to be. These are the same words
which describe what a government of human beings ought to be.
The profession had lost sight of government’s fundamental purpose: making and
enforcing normatively driven choices and pursuing selected social, political, and economic goals. Still a few practitioners and educators expressed ethical concerns. Years
ago, Paul Appleby (1951, p. 171) observed that “the genius of democracy is in politics,
not in sterilization of politics.”
Yet only now is the profession beginning to air the old philosophical proposition
that, ideally, government is ethics institutionalized for pursuing the public good. (A senior federal manager quoted Rousseau’s Social Contract on this point, and we hereby
pass along his recommendation for required reading.)
Public sector ethics began to emerge as a concern in its own right only after catastrophic irrationalities such as two world wars, genocide, and the atom bomb taught
us the power of organization; groundbreaking analyses of decision making in organizations by Nobel Prize-winner Herbert Simon (1947) and others taught us its limits.
And administrative discretion prospered, thereby relegating the traditional dichotomy
between politics and administration to the realm of delusion. At the same time, bureaucratic atrocities, misguided efficiencies, errors, and blind spots begged for explanation (Adams and Balfour, 1998).
The sociological search led to the “organizational man,” who is socialized and
pressured by and for the organization and thus ethically benumbed. (The Hollywood classic, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, offers some perspective.) The psychological search associated with names such as Skinner, Piaget, and Kohlberg took
behaviorism well beyond the human relations school to learning theory and influential theories of cognitive development.
In public service, the search was not for explanations but for solutions, which led
to more red tape instead of an ethical resurgence. Exploding responsibilities, growing
staffs, and mounting budgets were transforming public agencies. Responses were keyed
to classical public administration, with its emphasis on technical and organizational
remedies, plus conventional institutional arrangements in the constitutional tradition.
Many jurisdictions responded to new challenges by slapping on ever-more-numerous
and sophisticated controls to ease the intensifying risk (and sometimes reality) of fraud,
waste, and abuse. The accent on controls and oversight diverted attention from people
to dollars and from personnel to more readily controllable financial management.
Some would summarize the result for many agencies as a strangulating, dehumanizing, even less productive work environment. Some would emphasize how we
Introduction
15
tied ourselves and our employees in knots and forced ourselves to look for ways around
the rules. Although some might argue that more controls led to more integrity among
public employees, this is a continuing debate in the public administration community.
Professional Legacy
Today’s ethics revival in public service grows out of these intellectual roots and practical experiences. It also echoes concerns in the broader society. We acknowledge that
legitimate government (meaning public management, too) is in fact an ethical enterprise.
What do managers do with this professional legacy in terms of the ethical side of
management? Do we just turn our backs, echoing the sentiment of a character in James
Joyce’s Ulysses, who remarks, “History . . . is a nightmare from which I am trying to
awake”? Total rejection sets us up for self-contempt and the urge to throw the baby
out with the bathwater. Sanctification is the polar extreme, but here we face the danger of mindlessly repeating old mistakes. That leaves a point in between, calibrated
by picking and choosing in a pragmatic, reflective way.
Public service’s track record counsels a go but go-slow attitude toward ethics in the
workplace. Wariness, instead of paralyzing us, can short-circuit both excessive regulations and unbridled expectations. A cautious attitude now can prevent the later
repudiation that is inevitable if we set ethics up as the single cure for all managerial ills.
Three Roads to the Future
Public management practice and theory offer two often-opposing routes to the goal of
encouraging ethical practice and ethical practitioners in public agencies. These routes
encourage different behavior, make use of different vehicles, promote different purposes, and lead in different directions. A third path merges the other two and moves
public service at slow speed in the direction of moderation and innovation.
The “Low Road” of Compliance
The path of compliance, in the words of the poet, means “dreaming of systems so
perfect that no one needs to be good.” A largely proscriptive, coercive, punitive, and
even threatening route, this approach to ethics is designed to spur obedience to minimum standards and legal prohibitions. It is enforced by controls on the job that ordinarily aim at acceptable levels of risk, not flawless purity. John Rohr (1989, p. 60)
calls this the “low road.” It features “adherence to formal rules” and a negative outlook. Along this road, Rohr (p. 63) argues, “Ethical behavior is reduced to staying
out of trouble” and the result is “meticulous attention to trivial questions.” The allure
16
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
of compliance is both explained and mirrored in the words of a U.S. deputy attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice: “In the minds of many Americans, public service, government officials, politicians, crooks, and criminal activity are
inextricably mixed” (Burns, 1987, p. 46).
A compliance perspective monopolizes thinking about ethical behavior in many
quarters, including the federal government and many states and localities. Federal
training materials for ethics officials and employees deals with behavior exclusively
in terms of legally enforceable standards and as legalistic problems to be solved (by
reference, for example, to the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations) rather than
ethical dilemmas to be resolved.
In managerial terms, compliance translates into oversight and controls. When it
comes to ensuring accountability, these are facts of life in the complex, highly structured, and very powerful organizations we label bureaucracy. Nikolai Gogol’s play “The
Inspector General” is a suggestive description of a response to compliance in the field.
This nineteenth-century Russian drama opens with a governor, analogous to a political appointee, announcing the imminent arrival of an inspector! Feeling threatened
by impending doom, the governor relates his dream of giant, peculiar rats that sniff
and sniff at everything and everyone. Any manager who has undergone an audit probably can relate to his dream.
Realistically, public managers are not about to purge compliance from government operations. Nor should managers want to. Represented by administrative controls and legal sanctions, compliance is fundamental to the way the public’s business
is conducted. As guardians of political relationships and political goals, controls are accountability implemented. For evidence, look on your desk. Controls are ingrained in budgeting and personnel—traditional managerial functions.
The U.S. system has been preoccupied with accountability from its inception.
Probably the single most important travel reimbursement in U.S. history shows that
colonial controls were enforced even in revolution, when the founders were turning
their backs on authority in “the first general crisis of authority in American history”
(Lipset and Schneider, 1987, p. 2). Even so, Paul Revere duly submitted his bill for
printing and “riding for the Committee of Safety” in 1775. The Massachusetts legislature approved payment “in full discharge of the written account.” But reimbursement was for less than the patriot requested. George Washington’s detailed account of
expenses incurred as commander-in-chief (Jotman, 1988) provides more disillusioning historical evidence of using controls to implement accountability.
The “High Road” of Integrity
The path of integrity is ethics in the raw. Relying on moral character, this route counts
on ethical managers individually to reflect, decide, and act. Integrity is a basic ethical
Introduction
17
value, not limited to public service by any means. Ethical behavior draws on appropriate values and principles, absorbed from upbringing, philosophy, or, in John Rohr’s
formulation, regime values as constitutionally derived ethical norms. Individual responsibility is both a starting and an end point on the integrity route in public service.
Along the route lie the normative, voluntary, prescriptive, persuasive, and the positive—
but no external inducements or penalties.
Because the integrity route is noninstitutional by definition, public agencies show
few signs of it. Examples from the field include the credos (mislabeled as codes) adopted
by the Government Finance Officers Association, the International Personnel
Management Association, and the American Society for Public Administration
(GFOA, IPMA, and ASPA, respectively). Relying on persuasion, they cajole members
to measure up.
An approach based solely on individual integrity, as upbeat as it sounds, brings its
own difficulties. It bypasses unethical behavior entirely and preaches to the believers.
When reduced to simplistic do-good exhortation, it overlooks the competing claims
that perplex an ethical manager. By neglecting the decision-making environment and
focusing exclusively on autonomous moral individuals, the integrity approach sweeps
aside organizational and other influences that affect behavior. Given the fact that the
organization is an important influence on an individual’s behavior, an exclusive focus
on the individual operates at an inappropriate level of analysis. Perhaps more to the
point, the integrity route does not seem to have worked all that well, and abuse and
corruption persist.
The “Fusion” Road
The low road of compliance does not care that most people want to make good decisions but only that most people meet minimum standards of conduct. Integrity’s high
road rejects administrative realities that stem from accountability. Both mistakenly reduce the world to two distinct categories—ethical and unethical—whereas managers
actually cope in the gray areas of legitimate-but-competing values, principles, and
responsibilities. Neither approach alone accomplishes the purpose of spurring ethical
practice and practitioners in public service.
This purpose calls for fusing the two standard approaches and moving on both
fronts at once—a bipartisan conclusion reached long ago, often repeated but rarely
implemented. So we know what we should do. Now all that’s left is to follow through.
To the extent that public service has moved on both fronts, it results more from default
than strategy and is more a hodgepodge than a blending.
Public service and public employees would both be well served by management’s
merging the best from the compliance and integrity roads. Such a merger fuses forces
together to meet energetically the public service purpose stipulated at the start of
18
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
this introduction. We use a modernistic term on purpose here: fusion. But it implies no
explosion. Its futuristic orientation has roots deep in Western (and other) culture, reaching back to Aristotle’s golden mean, which defines virtue as the mean of excess and
shortfall. In the familiar context of a balanced budget (less familiar, of course, in the
federal context than others), the good outcome falls between surplus and deficit; any
other outcome signals trouble.
This is the path of moderation, adaptation, and compromise; it works through
phased innovation on both compliance and integrity fronts and at a slow pace. William
L. Richter (1989) imparts its tone and direction: “Positive ethics means concentrating a little less on what we must prevent—and a little more on what we want to
accomplish.” A two-pronged, systematic approach accomplishes that by incorporating both compliance with formal standards and the promotion of individual ethical
responsibility.
There is no parade and no intoxicating drumbeat along this road. When public
management jumps on the latest management bandwagon, the ancient virtue of
temperance is heavily devalued. Ethics demands informed reflection and individual
judgment; ethical managers are counted on to make sober decisions. Public service
is too important to be swept up in the carnival atmosphere of the hottest fad, where
reaching for the golden ring sabotages the golden mean.
Y
PART ONE
ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF
PUBLIC MANAGERS
Y
CHAPTER ONE
WHAT IS IMPORTANT IN PUBLIC SERVICE?
I
n an examination of ethics and the profession, Part One asserts that ethics and
genuine professional success go together in public service. It is the job itself—the
ambiguous, complex, pressured world of public service—that presents special problems for people who are committed to doing the public’s work and who want to do
the right thing. Facing up to the ethical demands on public managers starts with biting the bullet: public service ethics is different from ethics in private life. The reason
is that democracy is sustained by public trust—a link forged by stringent ethical standards. This chapter concludes with a diagnostic exercise and a case study; both serve
to clarify the contending values and cross-pressures pressing on everyday judgment
calls.
Public managers’ morale, identity, and capacity for decision making and innovation are entangled in ethics, and rightly so, because public service is our society’s
instrument for managing complexity and interdependency. The concern with ethics
and demands on managerial responsibility extend beyond academic halls to government corridors, public interest groups, and professional associations. Much of the action in the past thirty years—for example, the race to adopt or tighten ethics codes by
many jurisdictions and professional associations—translates into new challenges for
the public manager. Public expectations and formal standards today demand that
managers undertake sophisticated ethical reasoning and apply rigorous ethical standards to decisions and behavior.
21
22
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
Why Me?
Ethical concerns target public managers for two main reasons. One is that having public power, authority, and accountability in a democracy means that the public service’s
smooth functioning depends on trust. That trust has declined. The second reason is
the higher standards earmarked for public service and the public perception of pervasive shortfall.
Need for Public Confidence
“Public service is a public trust. If there is anything unique about public service, it derives from this proposition” (Lewis and Catron, 1996, p. 699). This proposition can be
traced back, in the United States at least, to Thomas Jefferson and is the very first provision in the federal Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and
Employees (first issued by executive order in 1989). It can be identified at other times
and in other cultures. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD, 2000), with its thirty member countries,
Public service is a public trust. Citizens expect public servants to serve the public
interest with fairness and to manage public resources properly on a daily basis. Fair
and reliable public services inspire public trust. Public service ethics are a prerequisite to, and underpin, public trust, and are a keystone of good governance.
The relationship between ethics and trust is so widely presumed that it is written
directly into professional codes, law, and regulations at all levels of government. (It is
also a fruitful area of current policy research.) Our hunch is that public confidence
in government is grounded in ethics, carrying with it broad acceptance of public activity. An instrumental approach cultivates ethics as politically useful because it makes
collective action possible, desirable, and legitimate. According to the INDEPENDENT
SECTOR (2004), for example,
As a matter of fundamental principle, the nonprofit and philanthropic community
should adhere to the highest ethical standards because it is the right thing to do.
As a matter of pragmatic self-interest, the community should do so because public
trust in our performance is the bedrock of our legitimacy.
Public agencies rely on trust as the foundation for our ability to govern effectively
through the voluntary compliance we in democracies prefer to compulsory obedience.
All mainstream segments of the political spectrum in the United States share this
What Is Important in Public Service?
23
preference and assume that ethics, trust, and government power are linked. President
Ronald Reagan affirmed his faith in this proposition in 1987 by declaring,
The power of the presidency is often thought to reside within this Oval Office,
yet it doesn’t rest here. It rests in you, the American people, and in your trust. Your
trust is what gives a president his powers of leadership and his personal strength.
Recognized years ago, the “confidence gap” came to symbolize a pervasive erosion of confidence in government and public trust of public institutions, paralleling
attitudes toward all institutions (Lipset and Schneider, 1987). The public assessment is
that perceived wrongdoing plagues society, from Wall Street to Main Street, from academia to the media, and from evangelical tents and churches to popular charities. No
segment is immune.
Public confidence started its downturn in the early 1960s. As shown in Figure 1.1,
it continued its plunge through the 1970s and the events of Watergate that climaxed
in August 1974, when for the first time an incumbent president resigned. The spirit
was dubbed “moral malaise” in the Carter administration. The celebrated turnaround
in the early years of the Reagan administration was modest compared with the earlier, precipitous decline, and ultimately many high-level officials left the Reagan and
ensuing administrations under an ethics cloud.
This public attitude (coupled with scandal in places high and low) catapulted ethics
into a national concern. National Gallup polls have long asked, “What do you think
is the most important problem facing this country today?” From April 1990 through
April 2004, usually less than 10 percent of respondents have answered with some variant of “ethics/moral/religious/family decline, dishonesty, lack of integrity.” Given the
circumstances surrounding presidential impeachment, it is not surprising that responses
peaked in excess of 15 percent in 1998 and then returned to their usual level. These
data suggest that when the noise of scandal subsides, our attention turns to business
as usual, meaning concerns such as jobs, prices, and national security.
Attention to ethics, predictably, is scandal-driven and short-lived. In a national
poll, 34 percent of respondents replied “restoring moral and family values” when
asked, “Which do you think should be a greater priority for the Bush Administration—
maintaining economic growth or restoring moral and family values?” (45 percent responded “maintaining economic growth” and 19 percent “both” [NBC News/Wall
Street Journal Poll, 2001]).
Seasoned political veterans habitually moderate their distress by allowing for
the political mileage gained by bemoaning moral deterioration. It is a favorite pastime.
(Every administration since Harry Truman has run, at least in part, on cleaning up the
ethics mess of its predecessor.) Yet even the most cynical among us must admit that
the nationwide, overall decline in trust in government is part and parcel of discussions
24
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
FIGURE 1.1. TRUST IN GOVERNMENT INDEX, 1958–2002.
70
high
60
50
40
low
30
52 61 45 39 38 29 30 29 27 31 38 47 34 29 29 26 32 34 36 43
20
10
02
00
20
98
20
96
19
94
19
92
19
90
19
88
19
86
19
84
19
82
19
80
19
78
19
76
19
74
19
72
19
70
19
68
19
66
19
64
19
19
0
Trust Index is constructed using data from four questions.
Q1: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what
is right — just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?”
Q2: “Would you say the government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for
themselves or that it is run for the benefit of all people?”
Q3: “Do you think that people in the government waste a lot of money we pay in taxes, waste
some of it, or don’t waste very much of it?”
Q4: “Do you think that quite a few of the people running the government are (1958-1972: a
little) crooked, not many are, or do you think hardly any of them are crooked (1958-1972
at all)?”
Source: The National Election Studies, Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan. The NES Guide
to Public Opinion and Electoral Behavior, Table 5A.5. Internet [http://www.umich.edu/~nes/nesguide/
nesguide.htm] (accessed June 10, 2004).
of contemporary ethics. Low evaluations on ethical dimensions such as honesty
and integrity sounded the alarm as the end of the last century neared (Lipset and
Schneider, 1987). The alarms continue to ring into the twenty-first century.
There simply are not enough hard data to separate the ratings of those in public service from elected officials and those in state and local service from federal and
What Is Important in Public Service?
25
nonprofit service. (Most available data describe opinions about elected officials but
rarely refer specifically to career professionals.) There is evidence that public confidence is associated with the public’s overall feeling about the state of the nation (Pew
Center for the People and the Press, 1998). In a national survey conducted in 1998,
“Three in four said the country’s values and morals are in serious decline.” Nearly two
in three said they were dissatisfied with the “honesty and standards of behavior of the
people in this country.” The survey also found, “Large majorities of men and women,
Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, young people and old, the wealthy and the poor sense something has gone terribly wrong with
the country’s moral compass” (Morin and Broder, 1998, p. A1).
Public confidence in and experience with government’s ability to perform and
handle problems are different from its confidence in government when ethics is the
issue. Performance ratings outstrip ratings on ethics (Goodsell, 2004; Pew Center for
the People and the Public, 1998). As a result, the data shown in Figure 1.2 speak to efficiency and competence and are the basis for the following conclusion:
Today, more people trust their state and local governments than trust the government in Washington. But, it was not always that way. Twenty-five years ago people
were more confident in the federal government than in those closer to home. Since
then confidence in Washington has eroded, while faith in state and local government
has actually grown (Pew Center for the People and the Press, 1998).
Because public confidence is believed to be related to public perceptions of ethical practice, energies shift to improving the ethical posture and reputation of public
service in order to increase public trust. Fundamentally, public service is and must be
an ethical enterprise. There is and must be an ethical core to public service. Given the
resources, power, and uneven sharing of benefit and harm in the governmental enterprise, we cannot afford to lose sight of what is right.
Need for Higher Standards
Despite the ballyhoo, public opinion usually judges public service on the whole as no
worse than other segments of society. Of course, there are differences, depending on
the field or function (Pew Center for the People and the Press, 1998; Figure 1.3). Sparse
data indicate that people in public service are usually seen as about average, meaning no worse but also no better than others. The problem is that average is just not
good enough. (See Exhibit 1.1.)
In reality, average is not the public’s, the profession’s, or the public employee’s expectation. Falling short of a higher expectation arouses a sense of ineptitude, even betrayal. Whatever the actual or perceived incidence of either corruption or fairness, the
26
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
Percent Responding Great Deal/Fair Amount
FIGURE 1.2. CONFIDENCE AND TRUST IN GOVERNMENT
TO HANDLE PROBLEMS.
1972
1977
70
60
Federal
63
81
State
63
78
Local
Source: Pew Center for the People and the Press, “How Americans View Government: Deconstructing Distrust.” 1998. Internet [http://people-press.org].
simple fact is that public service is expected to operate on a higher ethical plane than
other, more garden-variety activities. Decades ago, an eminent practitioner-academic
testified at Senate hearings (Appleby, 1951, p. 166):
It is significant, too, that the American people generally seek and expect from the
[g]overnment of the United States higher standards than they expect elsewhere.
And on the whole they do receive from elected and appointed officials generally a
return of extraordinary devotion, even though the weighing of value questions is so
complicated and difficult as to make the judgments reached highly controversial.
Appleby’s words ring true for all of public service.
The Latin word virtu means excellence and summarizes the demands made on those
in public service by public opinion, philosophical tradition, historical experience, and
professional identity. In actuality, as a special endeavor, public service operates on distinctive standards that reflect particular values.
The proposition is this: public officials and employees truly are expected to conform
meticulously to standards higher than those aligned with strictly personal morality
What Is Important in Public Service?
27
or standards associated with the private sector (see Figure 1.3). Both the nobility and
the burden of public service are that it strikes a different chord.
The American political tradition resounds with this refrain. It is sounded in the
well-known words of Thomas Jefferson: “Where a man assumes a public trust, he
should consider himself a public property.” Henry Clay echoed it: “Government is a
trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees
are created for the benefit of the people.”
The interaction of trust, confidence, and governmental integrity is evident in law
and regulation. It is conspicuous in governmental codes across the nation. For example, in Austin, Texas, the human resources Web site [http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/hr/
policy.htm] announces, “Citizens must have complete confidence in the integrity of their public
servants. The aim . . . is to provide guidance to employees on upholding the public trust
through ethical standards and expectations.” The ASPA’s code forges the same link:
“Demonstrate the highest standards in all activities to inspire public confidence and
trust in public service.”
FIGURE 1.3. RATING ON HONESTY AND ETHICAL STANDARDS.
80
Percent Responding High/Very High
70
60
50
Congressmen
Policemen
Business Executives
40
30
20
10
0
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
Question: “How would you rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these
different fields?”
Source: Gallup, Nov. 1996, 2002. Data provided courtesy of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research,
University of Connecticut. Internet [http://roperweb.ropercenter.uconn.edu/] (accessed Oct. 17, 2003).
28
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
EXHIBIT 1.1. AVERAGE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
2002
“For each of the following, please tell me how you would rate their moral and ethical standards—
as excellent, good, fair, or poor . . . members of the Bush Administration.”
8%
Excellent
38
Good
34
Fair
17
Poor
3
Not sure
Source: Time/CNN/Harris, 2002
1992
“How would you rate the moral and ethical standards of most . . . members of the Bush
administration . . . excellent, good, fair, or poor?”
2%
Excellent
27
Good
48
Fair
22
Poor
1
Not sure
Source: Harris, 1992
1988
“Do you think the moral and ethical standards of the Reagan Administration are higher than
those of other recent administrations, lower, or about the same?”
17%
Higher
23
Lower
56
About the same
4
Not sure
Source: NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 1988
Data provided courtesy of The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of
Connecticut. Internet [http://roperweb.ropercenter.uconn.edu] (accessed June 11, 2004).
Values in Public Service
Ethical values are beliefs about right and wrong. These yardsticks for ethical behavior
draw on feeling and thinking. Sentiment and reason combine into predispositions or
inclinations to act (Cooper, 1987). But not all values are the same; neither are they necessarily associated with ethical behavior. Some are virtues—the habits of ethical action
embedded in moral character that underlie ethical behavior and translate abstract,
ethical values into customary, observable behavior. Many ancient traditions stress
personal virtue, and Plato wrote of four: courage, wisdom, justice, and moderation.
What Is Important in Public Service?
29
In Buddhist teachings, “Good men and bad men differ from each other in their
natures. . . . Wise men are sensitive to right and wrong” (Bukkyo Dendo, Kyokai, 1987,
p. 264). In Exodus 18:21, when Moses sets about forming his administrative hierarchy
for the tribes of Israel newly liberated from slavery, his father-in-law, Jethro, advises
him to “provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers.”
Because not all values are ethical values, contemporary observers of the managerial scene draw up their own lists of requisite values and virtues. Some relate to
modern business management, others more directly to democratic ideals. Among those
drawn upon in this book, Laura Nash (1981, 1990) and Michael Rion (1990) figure
among the former; John Rohr (1989), Michael Josephson (1989), Josephson Institute
(1990), and Terry Cooper (1987) are among the latter. Also in the democratic mode,
Stephen Bailey—an influential figure in public administration—selected optimism,
courage, and “fairness tempered by charity” (1964, p. 236).
The point is that in public service, particular values are of special concern. They
are part of the answer to the question, “Why me?” These values support principles of
action that distinguish public service from other endeavors.
Why not select a single roster of ethical values? A list—plain-dealing and direct—
would be more compelling and maybe even more appealing. The answer lies in what
ethics itself is all about:
• Ethical action is reflective; it is based on thought and reason.
• Ethical action is principled; it draws on sound values.
• Ethical action means making normative judgments, and that means choice.
For Adults Only
The hallmark of adulthood is the capacity to tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity. Not necessarily liking it, mind you. Just tolerating it. This is the decisionmaking context of public service, and it demands ethics, maturity, a solid sense of self,
and a receptive frame of mind.
Competing Ethical Claims
Rival claims devour a public manager’s time, attention, and loyalties. Competing obligations in modern life pull everyone in different directions, while physical mobility
disrupts ties that, once upon a time, lasted a lifetime. Ask the city manager or field
agent whose career requires periodic relocation. Ask a ranger for the National Park
Service who gets transferred from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty. The Internet, fax machines, cellular phones, and other technological comforts let competing
30
The Ethics Challenge in Public Service
calls invade every arena, every moment. These demands fragment thinking and can
even shatter an undisciplined manager who exercises no selectivity.
Discriminating discipline is imposed by the manager’s priorities; they specify what
is important to attend to, and when. Choices among priorities and responsibilities are
made with an eye to roles—the sources of operative ethical responsibilities—that define one’s own behavior and that of others in different circumstances. The demand to
play multiple roles causes many of the pressures associated with contemporary public service. By contrast, the acknowledged driver in business is the “bottom line.” A
business either makes a profit or it doesn’t. The public sector’s multiple “bottom lines”
are far harder to measure than profit. The reality is that “the end of the governmentcentered public service and the rise of a multisectored service to replace it” has made
the public sector’s new reality even more complicated (Light, 1999, p. 1).
Different perspectives stress different concepts and responsibilities, but all envelop
numerous and varied roles and responsibilities. For example, Dwight Waldo (1981, pp.
104–106) encompasses just about all of them in his unranked catalogue of twelve
spheres of ethical claims on the public servant: the constitution; the law; nation; country, or people; democracy; organization-bureaucratic norms; profession and professionalism; family and friends; self; middle-range collectivities such as class, party, race,
union, interest group, and church; public interest or general welfare; humanity, world,
or future; and religion or God.
This is a lot to absorb all at once, and an analytic handle may be useful. Michael
Harmon’s “theory of countervailing responsibility” organizes opposing aspects of administrative responsibility into three types: the political, professional, and personal.
“Action that is deemed correct from the standpoint of one meaning might very well
be incorrect or irresponsible from the standpoint of another” (1990, p. 154); therefore,
tension is built into administrative life. Harmon (p. 157) defines each type:
Political Responsibility: “Action that is accountable to or consistent with objectives
or standards of conduct mandated by political or hierarchical authority.”
Professional Responsibility: “Action that is informed by professional expertise,
standards of ethical conduct, and by experience rooted in agency history and
traditions.”
Personal Responsibility: “Action that is informed by self-reflexive understanding;
and emerges from a context of authentic relationships wherein personal commitments are regarded as valid bases for moral action.”
Competing claims and interests are inevitable once the public service role is defined as distinct and different from other roles. The distinction—the separation itself—
is what induces conflict. As the National Municipal League points out, “Having a
conflict is not, in and of itself, evil, wrong or even unusual. Conflicts may be ethnic,
What Is Important in Public Service?
31
cultural, emotional, nostalgic, regional, financial or philosophical” (Weimer, 1990,
p. 16). This realistic perspective suggests that we also take just as realistic a look at multifaceted public managers who inhabit a rich, complex environment and enjoy job,
family, friends, community, and other attachments.
The Ethical Claims of Five Different Roles
Figure 1.4 shows the five primary clusters of roles with which managers cope. A role
defines the capacity in which the public manager is acting and the behavior suitable
to it. Each role signals different bundles of concerns, values, and standards of behavior; each is marked by a mix of ethical claims, or duties. Some duties are responsibilities, meaning self-imposed, voluntary, and informal; others are obligations: formal,
externally imposed, and legally or otherwise sanctioned. The fact that both types of
claims confront managers invokes the distinction between legality and ethicality, which
is explored in the next chapter. (By contrast, Cooper [1990, p. 60] distinguishes obligation as responsibility for a task or goal from accountability as responsibility to someone.) Responsibilities tend to be broad, even diffuse; obligations, if only for enforcement
purposes, tend to be narrow and clearly defined.
The personal role involves self, family, personal beliefs, and community affinity
and is the stuff of daily life and emotional bonds. Although its ethical claims are selfimposed, they are still typically compelling. Sometimes this personal role is conceived
as an arena protected from intrusion, regulation, or scrutiny and thereby is confused
with “the private” and privacy. This confusion breeds misunderstandings about role
boundaries (which we examine in Chapter Three). To illustrate, President Chester A.
Arthur is quoted as saying, “I may be president, but my private life is nobody’s damned
business” (Hochschild, 1998, p. 76). Although many Americans value privacy and stress
the informal responsibilities associated with the personal role, the equation of personal
and private simply does not hold up either historically or contemporarily. Individual,
familial, and community obligations have long been written into law and backed by
serious sanctions, from the ancient Code of Hammurabi and the Book of Leviticus
through today’s inheritance, …
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