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First, Do No Harm

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

By Charles Mason
February 11, 2022

As public policy administrators, we all have various abiding principles to which we are called to adhere. When it comes to policymaking and policy enforcement, one of the “key” principles should be “First, Do No Harm.” Using this principle is essential for the ethical implementation of policies. America is a divided nation with many enemies within and without. Both sides of the debates have been promoting their personal views. Not that our personal views do not guide us in our many transactions, but we must consider the law, how the citizens have voiced their opinions and how we are morally and ethically accountable.

Recently, some corporate media outlets and a small, but influential group of public office holders have promoted the idea that laws can be made and that citizens can have their freedoms reduced, constrained or temporarily taken away. Yet, the enforcers and those making these restrictions are placed above those limitations due to their elite status in the governing body and the community.

Our positions as administrators place us in many critical functions of authority and power. Our performance within organizations, communities and families can influence and impact generations to come. It appears that not all administrators realize the difficulties and significance of their responsibility to “Do No Harm.” One of the most common mistakes is limiting the “Do No Harm” principle to those who are like-minded and in your camp. This hypocrisy creates a rise of lawlessness in America from both sides and fosters disobedience. It should be implied that we should avoid any harm through our organizations and individual capacities while pursuing policy goals.

Consider the rights of the citizen without your access to power and control. Where do their rights come from? By remembering where the people’s rights come from, we should seek to protect those rights by becoming a better public administrator. Every condition requires an individual result to safeguard ethics and morality. What are the risks to the community concerning the goals you are pursuing?

Once the community has been given comprehensive information to make rational decisions, where does the administrator’s reach stop? When the need arises to ascertain an appropriate degree of risk to a community, administrators must be prepared to shoulder the burden of those risks and abide by their implementations and conditions once citizens are informed that they are exposed to certain risks and harm.

Is it right to incite violence on your political enemies, but deny that those in your core group are doing the same? Some administrators take on the view that the rights of the people lie solely up to them. By withholding the rights of the people, they are inciting violence. Some policymakers have taken steps to call for violence and confrontation upon their opponents. This was seen during the alleged Russian theft of the 2016 election, the rise of the pandemic and the voting irregularities of the 2020 election. Americans have seen an upheaval in their personal and political lives. Citizens around the country expressed their concerns, anxieties and viewpoints while making opposing views through demonstrations, disturbances and confrontations on local, state and federal bodies. Corporate media used its platform to promote the personal views of its staff without penalties before the American people, while social media entities have become weaponized. Their platforms restrict many citizens’ freedom of speech. They are stopping methods in which differing views are conveyed. Many citizens are hard-pressed, seeing their freedom limited, while policymakers are unrestrained. They will continue to oppose what they see as inequality, as they witness the modeling behaviors of their community leaders.

When public administrators feel that they alone have the authority, education and knowledge to develop procedures and processes without the people’s input, we are heading in the wrong direction. Prospering communities can be conceived and survive without harming others.

Public administration is about leadership, realizing the many disparities and prospects for improvement, while grasping the complex needs of those we serve. It is imperative, for the continued union and republic, that administrators both on this platform and off portray both sides of the issues and address the strengths and weaknesses of all parties involved. Administrators must reach across the aisles and show a willingness to hear from the other side. Throughout this nation, there is a broad and diverse range of views. Public administrators must provide platforms to listen to those with various viewpoints on the issues.

The concept of administrator liability should be distinguished as a level of risk that society can reasonably accept when a particular policy is implemented. Risk is set in some instances by the administrators at the federal, state and local levels. We must conduct an ethical audit for ourselves and help our communities conduct a social audit of the community at large. Our moral audit can be created to contain an assessment of our actions concerning the health of our community at large as we pursue a policy to “Do No Harm.”


Author: Charles Mason MPA, is a Doctoral Candidate at Walden University in Public Policy and Administration with a Specialization in Criminal Justice. He has over 30 plus years in local law enforcement, state corrections and military service. He is currently president of Mason Security. He can be reached at [email protected]. Twitter: https://twitter.com/DRCharlesMason

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