Ethics in Public Administration
Ethics in Public Administration
“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust. The elective mode of obtaining rulers is the characteristic policy of republican government. The means relied on in this form of government for preventing their degeneracy are numerous and various. The most effectual one, is such a limitation of the term of appointments as will maintain a proper responsibility to the people.1”
How does one maintain proper responsibility to the people? Public Administration is a major contributor to democratic life. Its success advances to the building and maintaining of public trust built in democracy2. One of the greatest obstacles a public administrator is faced with are political and personal responsibilities. Friedrich believes that political and personal responsibilities are acquired through reasoned communication based on scientific knowledge3, while Finer argues that strict obedience to political administration superiors are ones political and personal responsibilities4. Finer also questions if there is such thing as being overly educated, and if those that are highly educated being scared away from governmental positions, thus leaving sub par people to take those roles5. The thought is that if there were better personnel in government positions than there would be a better political system; therefore a more ethically inclined system.
Eric Raile agrees with Friedrich’s approach of reasoned communication; being educated on ethics through training, personal interactions, and perceived knowledge will influence perceptions of ethical climate6. An interesting discovery though was that work tenure actually lessened the perception. This thought process of education is considered to be public ethics. Public ethics is the belief that results are gained from experience from care-oriented tasks7. Experience compared with a person’s age to how long he/she has been in office.
The government has two types of approaches to determine ethics through efficiency and performance versus legal and democratic values. These two approaches are the legalistic approach and the managerialistic approach. The legalistic approach is just that, based on law. It relies on law-based priorities and processes to balance discretionary innovation and accountability. The managerialistic approach relies on innovation and efficiency to balance discretionary innovation and accountability.
Whistle-blowing is an area of ethics that is often the most intimidating. While an employee is supposed to be protected it is not often guaranteed. There is a huge risk for not only the employee who reports perceived unethical behavior, but also to the company involved. Since there is always a question of whether one should report unethical behavior it is also interesting to examine what makes a person choose whether or not to report those behaviors. One study revolved around auditors, but its conclusion shows how the findings can be applied to public administration: to determine the likelihood of a person to report unethical behavior one must examine that person’s professional commitment and the organizations commitment versus colleague commitment and moral intensity of the unethical behavior9. The findings in the study of the auditors showed that moral intensity relates to both; higher level of professional identity increases as the commitment to the organization provides motivation.
Another study showed results for where an employee is likely to report these incidences to: executives of larger organizations showed a higher level of employees voicing concerns to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and external whistle-blowing. Executives with union workers showed a higher level of employees voicing concerns to EEOC, the media, and external whistle-blowing. Executives in the manufacturing industry showed a higher level of employees voicing concerns to OSHA10. While the results are not one hundred percent, and further investigation needs to be done, this study showed that employees are more likely to voice concerns to outside parties, rather than internally.
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