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A Perspective on Intersectoral Administration, Morality and the Satisfied Public Servant

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Kimberley Garth-James
August 14, 2021

Public servants experience job satisfaction in various work environments that act consistently with their beliefs and character. Satisfied administrators frequently have a strong moral foundation and drive to serve the public good. A recent examination of job satisfaction surveys on three business services sites—Indeed, HubSpot and Insightlink—offers insight into the importance of ethics in intersectoral, collaborative arrangements. Intersectoral administrations may take the form of public-private, public-nonprofit or corporate-social business enterprises (SBEs). Kolk, van Dolen and Vock document the societal (macro-level) and individual (micro-level) benefits of partnering for social good in the Trickle Effects of Cross-Sector Social Partnerships (2010). Increasingly, such programs and services as infrastructure maintenance, corrections and Covid-19 vaccinations are being provided through collaborative arrangements. Thus, from 2016 to 2018, investment in value-based partnerships increased from less than $9 trillion to $12 trillion, and the Biden administration’s trillion-dollar Build back Better infrastructure plan includes billions for public-private partnerships. The discussion here concerns the role of morality in intersectoral (collaborative) administration and job satisfaction experienced by public administrators.

Morality and Ethics

Public organizations outsource jobs to private companies for service quality, sustainability and efficiency. Government agencies retain control of regulating and monitoring projects to protect stakeholders’ expectations. For example, state departments of corrections contract with businesses to hire and train inmates to produce goods (such as garments ot computer components). For effective enforcement, this requires trust and integrity among the partners, who expect each other to do the right thing and act justly. Public administrators, when making decisions, rely on their training and education as well as personal ethics. Trust and cooperation are key components of job satisfaction in partnerships according to Seanor and Meaton in Learning from Failure, Ambiguity and Trust in Social Enterprise (2008), and confirmed in surveys conducted by Indeed and HubSpot in 2020; trusting one’s supervisor, constructive feedback and recognition for doing a good job promote satisfaction in the workplace. Morality involves acting in a socially responsible manner amid the complex social, political, economic, technological and cultural forces that shape all organizations. In social enterprises, pursuing the public good while maintaining a strong sense of morality and ethics promotes innovation, accountability and goal attainment. Weber, Haugh, Göbel, and Leonardy, in Pathways to Lasting Cross-Sector Social Collaboration: A Configurational Study (2021),suggest that intersectoral collaborations that combine the commercial capabilities of private companies with the ethical and moral directives of public agencies have proven effective with their goals while respecting social and environmental concerns, citing earlier studies linking trust with the co-creation of value and access to or use of shared resources. The dynamism of police reforms—studied in 2003 by the Vera Institute of Justice and Ford Foundation, recognized that public-private forms of policing in the United Kingdom,  India and South Africa, can achieve agency legitimacy and accountability with emphasis on professional and trust relationships between officers and citizens.

Intersectoral Administration

According to Henry in Public Administration and Public Affairs (2007), intersectoral administration, or privatization and government outsourcing to corporations, is for the public good. Current privatizations (collaborations) involve 3Ps in the context of which policymakers seek lower risk and costs associated with infrastructure projects (see Delmon’s Public-Private Partnership Projects in Infrastructure, 2011). Companies and public agencies can integrate finances with labor and policies to deliver needed public services. Prison Industry Enhancement projects authorize privatized workshops that train, employ and pay marketable wages to inmate employees, improving their post-release job prospects. Integrating human redemption beliefs into professional practice involves embracing aspects of rehabilitation.

These collaborative partnerships share a focus on reciprocity throughout the arrangements. Amid market failures and concerns about social inequity, corrections agencies need to outsource job training to private-sector form organizations dedicated to helping those in need. Over time, intersectoral efforts combining public and private and public and nonprofit for-profit enterprises have harnessed labor, commercial capacity and managerial power to fulfill missions and achieve goals. A focus on humanity in this new age of social justice means managing and leading with integrity and communicating openly and honestly so as to nurture and exchange relationships among collaborators. Public administrators with the appropriate training can realize savings for their agencies and, thereby, taxpayers, by shifting expenditures to private corporations and balancing the needs of employers, investors and the public. Importantly, public administrators are becoming increasingly risk-averse but remain dedicated to delivering services. This includes infrastructure projects and public-health initiatives through partnerships such as between the Centers for Disease Control and Dollar General stores providing COVID-19 vaccinations to reach needy communities. In conclusion, collaborations represent a social good and, perhaps, a path toward human redemption. Evidence continues to accumulate showing public administrators’ satisfaction to be closely tied to their personal beliefs and moral behavior.


Author: Dr. Kimberley Garth-James, Associate Professor & Director, MPA Program and Center for Public Affairs, Azusa Pacific University. [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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