Ethical Conduct and Public Administration

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Written Brief #4 Ethical conduct on its surface seems like a simple enough area to grasp firmly and abide by. Most people are born hard wired with a certain sense of order that is conventionally thought of as ethical conduct. Ethical conduct cannot be gauged and categorized due to its ever changing nature. Today’s public administrators face many dilemmas in regard to ethical conduct. This is not because today’s public administrators are inherently evil. This is mainly due to the elevated level of scrutiny placed on today’s public administrators.

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Network television and the emergence of the internet have facilitated this scrutiny; however the blame cannot be solely attributed to these forms of media. Some public administrators make questionable moral decisions that help amplify the public perception of the need for increased scrutiny on the administrator’s activities. Most public administrators have a sworn duty to do what’s best for the well being of society. The main issue seems to be that politics has such duality. Where some constituents may favor certain issues others do not and that is where difficult decisions must be made.

These decisions cannot be made by simple cost-benefit analysis, and public administrators are many times caught in sticky situations. Caught on the horns of a dilemma the public administrator is not only faced with opposed and perhaps equally unwelcome alternatives; even worse their incompatible juxtaposition also implies that they are mutually exclusive in the sense that the satisfaction of the one can only be made if the other is sacrificed. It is then the case that solving a dilemma resembles a zero sum game, whereby the choice of one value alternative is necessarily followed by the negation of the other.

Solving the dilemma in such a way would, therefore, be a contradiction since the solution reached would seem to be no more than a scission and a split of the intertwined aspects of the issue at hand. A dilemma may, however, be dealt with in a more effective and appropriate way if the terms of reference are altered and the whole situation is reformulated and redefined so that full account is taken and due respect paid to the battling value options, which are then ordered and linked among themselves in a more systematic and coherent manner. Naturally, dilemmas abound in complex organizations, which fail to tackle them effectively.

As a result, state officials and civil servants exposed to acute dilemmas can hardly help succumbing to a state of confusion and embarrassment in which they are often quite unwillingly thrust into. In circumstances like these public administration instead of functioning as a well ordered state of legitimate purposes degenerates into a state of confusion and indeterminacy. It is then the case that ethical vagueness and lack of clarity about overall values to guide action and choices in difficult cases may come close to unleashing a spirit of unbound relativism if not cynicism whereby everything stands.

But if everything stands and anything goes, then nothing can be taken seriously, neither ethics and values nor rights and duties of public servants and citizens alike. In an effort to make some sense out of the multitude of criteria that one way or another enter and frequent the organizational landscape of public administration a set of ground rules have been distinguished which, first, classify in an orderly way basic administrative dilemmas; and second, ought to be taken into account whenever one is engaged in the business of dealing with them.

It is observed that the set of guiding ethical principle is constructed on the basis of an ideal type. This supports the thought that individuals have a predisposition towards order and the ethical resolution of problems. Public administrators are simply caught up in the different constituencies lobbying to push their agendas to the forefront.

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