Free «Ethics in Public Administration» Essay Sample

Ethics in Public Administration


In spite the growing interest in ethics that has occurred over the past ten years the public is not convinced that there has been much improvement in bureaucratic behavior. This may be because schools of public administration have not uniformly instituted courses on ethics. In some schools, ethics is a mandatory course whereas in other schools it is not even optional (Svara, 2007). Public administration is a complex, diverse and exiting discipline involving theories, paradigms and practices often borrowed from other sciences. Many scholars have raised concern about the state of the public administration questioning whether it is a separate discipline at all. Therefore, these calls for an improvement in the courses offered in public administration.

If public administration itself has an identity crisis, it should not be surprising that ethics for public administrators is undergoing a worse identity crisis. Public administration’s treatment of ethics involves many things, including whether to use philosophy as its foundation and, if so, whose philosophy to use (Thompson, & Leidlein, 2009). Should the works of Aristole and St. Thomas Aquinas which involve the existence of a real, external world with objective rules, laws and regulations be the foundation of this ethics? Or should the philosophy of Plato and German Idealist dictate the approach? Do we live in a subjective world created by human consciousness, where consciousness dictates reality? Are the right and wrong things we interpret as such? Are right and wrong relative to every actor? Or maybe there is a combination of both approaches that can help in the teaching of ethics (Svara, 2007).

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Ethics is the other side of the management coin. Its purpose is to prepare managers to do the right thing. If there are problems in getting managers to do things right, it should not be no surprise that managers also have problems determining what is right. Unfortunately, the public often sees public managers as not competent in either regard. Thus, the purpose of   ethics is to help managers determine what is right, and act accordingly.

Why study Public Administration?

  • Preparing for administrative positions
  • Combining technical and managerial training
  • Interaction of business and government
  • Influencing public organizations
  • Making things happen.

The Need For Ethical Judgment

In emphasizing the public good rather than personal reward or negative consequences, public sector ethical statements treat the public employee as a moral individual who is capable of making the choice to do that what is right, regardless of self-interest. The statement tells the public agent what is right and leaves the responsibility for choosing it up to the individual (Svara, 2007). In addition, the statements most often express general principles, values, and concerns rather than designating specific actions. The principles must be interpreted and practiced with good judgment in individual cases. The public agent cannot be a mere rule follower, but must look to the intent of the rule in order to properly understand and apply it.

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Approaches in promoting ethical behavior

Given the pervasiveness of ethical issues in the public service, more attention needs to be focused on their management (Thompson, & Leidlein, 2009). Among the questions to be considered are:- Are written ethical rules the best of promoting ethical behavior? Or should we require that both existing and aspiring public servants take courses on ethics and value? To what extent can or should public servants be expected to model their ethical behavior on that of their political superiors and administrative colleagues? The three questions highlight three means of preserving and promoting ethical behavior among public servants, namely written rules, including codes of ethics, pre-service education and in-service training and development and reliance on the model provided by hierarchical superiors and associates (Thompson, & Leidlein, 2009).

Common Attitudes toward Ethics in Public Administration

People in public administration have different attitudes toward ethics in their profession.

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Ethics as a threat: - Some people fear any mention of ethics in their professions. Not all people who take this attitude are unethical. Some may be very ethical in their personal lives but exempt their professional conduct from the ethical standard that they apply from home (Svara, 2007). Others yet may be admirably ethical both at home and in their professions but fear ethics as something negative, accusatory and judgmental. This reaction to ethics is essentially emotional.

Ethics as an externally imposed impediment

People who adopt this attitude do not fear ethics but consider it an annoyance. They believe that ethics is a barrier to attainment of professional goals, imposed by some source outside of the profession, such as the religion or a group of annoying moralist. Public administrators who share this view believe that ethics is not naturally part of their responsibilities and that, therefore, a public agent would, in the ideal professional situation, have no need whatsoever for ethics. To such people, ethics merely makes public administration more difficult and less productive than it ought to be (Thompson, & Leidlein, 2009).

Issues in public administration

  • Politics and administration
  • Ensuring accountability
  • Bureaucracy and democracy
  • Efficiency versus responsiveness

Code of conduct for public officials

This is a set of rules made by a higher authority for a specific homogeneous group of public officials, with a view to eliciting from them a specific behavior under a specific circumstance (Thompson, & Leidlein, 2009).

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Objectives of the code of ethics:

  • Promoting and maintaining the responsible conduct of public officials
  • Promoting the public trust and the integrity of public officials
  • Providing guidelines for public officials in their relationships with fellow public officials, elected political office bearers and members of the public.
  • Providing guidelines for public officials in exercising the discretionary powers they may have.