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Restoring Public Trust: Professional Ethics, Professional Management and Dr. Anthony Fauci

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

By Michael Abels
January 31, 2021

With public confidence in government declining, a vital question confronted by public managers is how this negative trend can be reversed; what management techniques will build the public trust in my organization?

The Decline of Public Trust in American Institutions

As we survey our national environment, it is clear that the public’s confidence in public and private institutions has been declining for some years, and today is abysmally low. In 1964 77% of the public trusted the federal government most of the time. In a steep linear decline, by 2019 only 17% of the public expressed such confidence. But, the decline in trust of the federal government is not an outlier. The public’s confidence in our private as well as public institutions is appallingly low. According to a 2020 poll by Gallup only 24% of Americans expressed a great deal or quite a lot of trust in the American criminal justice system, 41% in public schools, 42% of an organized religion, 48% in the police and 51% in medical care system. Long term, American society cannot be sustained with the public holding its public and private institutions with such a poor level of trust. Public managers are integral to identifying a formula that will rebuild the public trust.  

So, what principles should be followed and what management actions should public administrators take to reverse the public’s declining confidence? How can we rebuild the public trust? In preparing a presentation for the International Association of City/County Management Association (ICMA) I found fascinating information that I believe points to an answer. First, 71% of citizens express trust in local government, and this high level of confidence has held true without significant fluctuation for several decades. Secondly, 68% of the public express trust in Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies & Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The public’s confidence in Dr. Fauci remains high even though in October President Trump made a concerted public effort to discredit Dr. Fauci’s credibility and professionalism.

What is the key to these two high public ratings? The answer seems to be two interconnected variables: compliance with a strict code of ethics which will establish an environment where the public identifies those in public service as knowing and applying principles identified with professional excellence.

The code of ethics established by ICMA and the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) calls for managers to exhibit the highest level of integrity, with policy recommendations based on facts as well as professional expertise. In essence, managers following the code of ethics advocated by ASPA and ICMA are demonstrating excellence through professional management. As stated by Martha Perego, Ethics Director for ICMA, city management is exemplified by managers, “Who do the right thing the right way.” Managers who practice professional management thus do the right thing the right way and earn a high level of public trust at 71%. But what principles will lead managers to do the right thing the right way? The answer to this question is found in the management principles followed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who as a public manager is also receiving a very high degree of public trust.

Management Principles Modeled by Dr. Anthony Fauci

In his years as Director of the National Institute of Allergies & Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Dr. Fauci has consistently utilized a set of ethically based management principles that serve as a model for professional management. These principles are a guide a public manager can use to understand how, “To do the right thing, the right way.” They closely parallel the principles of servant leadership. They are:

  1. Base decisions on facts and evidence; look long term.
  2. Do not take actions contrary to evidence.
  3. Involve opposing views in analysis; be open to criticism.
  4. Data must be integrated with political, social and economic realities.
  5. Don’t be afraid of vulnerability; of saying I don’t know.
  6. Speak truth to power
  7. Acknowledge when things are not going well.
  8. Be transparent with data and analysis.
  9. Be prepared for strong opponents.
  10. Honesty always.

Conclusion

The management components critical to building public trust are broadly described through the principles within the ASPA and ICMA code of ethics. Together these principles show a path for public administrators to demonstrate excellence through professional management. The high level of trust held by the public in local government is directly traceable to the emphasis local government managers place on ethical professional management. To discover the skillset critical to demonstrating excellence in public management, Dr. Anthony Fauci reveals management principles that model the way for successfully building public trust. Public trust, ethical professional management and the management principles exhibited by Dr. Anthony Fauci are irrevocably linked. They serve as a guidepost for public managers as they pursue a central goal of public administration; building the public trust.


Author: Michael Abels.Career city manager and retired Lecturer in Public Administration, University of Central Florida. Currently adjunct instructor at Stetson University. Recently published a text-workbook through Routledge Taylor & Francis Group titled Policy Making in the Public Interest: A Text and Workbook for Local Government. Author contact email is [email protected]. Twitter @ abelsmike

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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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