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Committing ASPA to Uphold the Code of Ethics

By James H. Svara

In 2013, ASPA revised its Code of Ethics.  In addition to the five principles in 1994 code—advance the public interest, uphold the constitution and law, demonstrate personal integrity, promote ethical organizations, and advance professional excellence–, three principles were upgraded from specific provisions in the earlier code–promote democratic participation, advance social equity, and fully inform and advise elected officials, superiors, and peers.  These eight principles are the code with guidelines for applying the code placed in a separate document.  If you haven’t read it yet, go to Code of Ethics resource page at www.aspanet.org/CodeofEthics to review the new ASPA Code.

Throughout the ethics review process, it was clear that revising the code was only the first step.  Strengthening the implementation of the Code was needed as well.  To accomplish this objective, changes in structure and process are required in ASPA.  The National Council has approved a proposal developed by an ad hoc committee to create a new Ethics and Standards Implementation Committee.  The bylaws changes to establish the new standing committee require a vote by ASPA members that will be held in November 2014.

The purposes of the Committee are to—

  • Promote the importance of ethics in ASPA and in the public service in general.
  • Advance awareness and ethics training.
  • Provide advice to members in handling problems and offer assistance to members.
  • Review ethics complaints and advise the Council.
  • Speak for ASPA in cases involving serious challenges to ethical administration.

The complete proposal can be read on the Code of Ethics Resource page.  I would like to briefly explain the reasons for establishing the Committee and an ethics review process for ASPA.

The new Committee’s overriding responsibility is to monitor and promote ethics in the public service.  It will examine ethical issues and shortcomings in government and nongovernmental organizations that serve the public and highlight major ethics challenges faced by administrators.  It will disseminate ideas through panels at ASPA conferences, reports to members, and suggested programs for chapters.  It will prepare ethics educational material for members and develop guides for ethics assessments at the individual, unit, and organizational level.  The goal is to promote positive ethical behavior as well to reduce unethical behavior.

The Committee will actively establish partnerships and linkages.  Within ASPA, it will coordinate activities with the Ethics Section to develop classroom teaching tools including a module on the Code for use in a wide range of public administration and public policy courses, and it will develop sample course syllabi.  It will work with sections to identify issues relevant to the particular areas of public administration.  It will reach outside the organization to work with NASPAA on ethics standards and instruction in MPA and MPP programs.  It will also work with other associations of public professionals in promoting complementary approaches to promoting ethics that include the overarching ASPA Code and the focused code of each association.

The proposal calls for establishing a multi-faceted ethics review process in ASPA for the first time.  The Committee will respond to requests from members for advice in handling difficult ethical situations.  It will review requests for help from members who have been penalized for upholding the Code and provide support to them.  In addition, it will review and seek to resolve complaints about a member whose actions may have violated the Code of Ethics.  The handling of complaints will primarily be a process of peer review.  The committee will seek to clarify the behavior that led to the complaint and when necessary encourage voluntary corrective action by the member to demonstrate compliance with the code.  We expect that most complaints can be resolved in this way.

If a member refuses to take corrective action and evidence indicates a serious violation of the Code, the Committee will recommend appropriate action to the Council for its approval.  Careful safeguards will be followed to ensure fairness and due process protection.  A variety of remedies could be recommended to Council.  At the present time, the only option in the ASPA Bylaws is for the Council to expel a member for an ethics violation.  Like the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the Council would use a wider array of responses.  Depending on the seriousness of a complaint that is substantiated, the actions could include a private censure including private censures communicated only to the member (the most common ICMA response to complaints that are upheld), public censure, and in extraordinary circumstances removal from the association.  The purpose of the review process is to support the overarching goals of promoting ethical behavior and prevent unethical practices through education, awareness-raising, and self-assessment.  Prevention of unethical behavior will be advanced by providing illustrations of ethical lapses to be avoided without identifying individuals.

Beyond individual cases, the Committee will examine and draw attention to situations that seriously challenge the ability of public administrators to uphold their ethical responsibilities or violate the human rights of public administrators world-wide.

A vote on the revisions to the ASPA Bylaws to create the standing Committee will be conducted in November at same time as election of officers and Council members.  More information about the new Committee will be disseminated leading up to vote.  Suggestions are invited for ways to advance public ethics through the work of the Ethics and Standards Implementation Committee.  The members of the committee that developed the proposal are J. Paul Blake, Patria Julnes, Jim Nordin, Suzanne Piotrowski, and Jonathan West.

Comments, suggestions, or questions are welcomed.

 

Author: ASPA member James H. Svara, chairperson of the ad hoc Code of Ethics Implementation Committee, is Research Professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University and Visiting Professor in the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Email: [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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