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Ethics in Public Administration

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

By David Arthur
April 3, 2023

In order to understand accountability within Public Administration we need to start with the person. A person who aspires to be a public administrator should realize that this profession is not just a position of employment—an opportunity to work and receive income—but it is a service one provides to the community which requires particular expertise. In order to discuss the demands of accountability that the administrator must hold themselves to, one must begin with ethics. Ethics in public administration is the very foundation that every administrator must embody so that they can meet the demands of those that they serve. Public service embodies the ethical principles of the common good, service to others and social equity.(Holzer and Schwester, 2020). The individual that is attracted to public service should feel as if it is a calling, with a high degree of service. Public service attracts a special kind of individual. The calling to public service is at the heart of public administration and is based on a duty—or an intense inner commitment—to a cause that extends beyond the exigencies of the moment (Holzer and Schwester, 2020). The individual’s calling should be sparked by a sense of community and the desire to always do what is right. The root of the common good stems from an acknowledged interconnectedness of individuals who rely on one another, providing the basis of community (Holzer and Schwester, 2020). This understanding of the “common good” is the basis of administrative ethics which are “a set of normative guidelines directed at resolving conflicts of interest so as to enhance societal well-being” (Holzer and Schwester, 2020). This basic understanding of ethics is the framework for administrative ethics. Administrative ethics emphasize:

  1. The rights and duties that individuals should respect when they act in ways that seriously affect the well-being of other individuals and society; and
  2. The conditions that collective practices and policies should satisfy when they similarly affect the well-being of individuals and society (Holzer and Schwester, 2020).

The individual should embody the following ideal ethical qualities of fairness, flexibility, honesty, accountability and competence, which are embodied by the Fourteen Principles of Ethical Conduct for Federal Employees. These guidelines along with transparency help to ensure that public servants are held to a high level of responsiveness, fairness, honesty and competence.

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