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A Salute to Public Servants

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

By Charles Goodsell
June 30, 2017

Dr. Charles Goodsell provided the following remarks during ASPA’s Salute to Public Service, which was held at the Atlanta capitol this past March in conjunction with the 2017 Annual Conference. Within the context of the Trump presidential administration, he offered the following guidance.

burtWhat can we in public administration do based on the current Trump presidency? One option is to practice continuous guerilla government in the form of whistleblowing, anonymous tips to the press and organized protest. This avenue may be needed in extreme situations, but in general is a mistaken strategy in that it would only worsen the climate of cynicism, distrust and alienation already plaguing the nation. Also, it could easily destroy the careers of the very kinds of civil servant we need right now.

I propose instead a positive counterweight strategy anchored in our own daily actions. It would be an honorable, legal and practical course of action. In fact, it could be set in motion immediately on the part of America’s 23 million government employees. My proposal is for individuals to adopt an informal Code of Conduct, in supplement to ASPA’s Code of Ethics. Here are 10 possible items for the Code of Conduct: 

  • One. Promote calm instead of chaos in your organization as duty changes and reductions in force are instituted.
  • Two. In making a point before the public, be sure of your facts, don’t rely on “alternative” ones or plain hype.
  • Three. Admit and learn from mistakes; do not refuse to accept their existence or brand them as “fake news.”
  • Four. Explain in advance the reasons for new courses of action; do not spring them overnight.
  • Five. Do not talk up massive new projects without knowing the details and implications behind them, including fiscal ones.
  • Six. Stick to announced decisions over time and do not contradict yourself a few days later.
  • Seven. Select team leaders who actually believe in the value of the team’s purpose rather than oppose it.
  • Eight. Seek consensus or compromise with those with whom you disagree—don’t think in terms of friends and enemies.
  • Nine. Advance the interests of all citizens; don’t “make deals” that relate only to your personal interests and those of a competitor.
  • Ten. Guard your personal credibility with your life by never knowingly lie to the public.

For this Code of Conduct to have any effect it must be applied mindfully. Discuss its terms and use with colleagues; it can become a basis for solidarity among fellow public administrators. Try to keep aware of its terms so as to apply them intentionally when the opportunity arises. Twenty-three million bold and noble professionals can make a difference — and have the satisfaction of knowing they put forth the effort.

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