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Transparency: Clarity in Public Administration

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

By Robert Brescia
December 7, 2019

One of the huge issues currently facing us in the world of public administration is transparency. A previous political candidate said in a national debate that the personal perspective or beliefs of an elected or appointed official might differ from his or her public opinion. When that happens, the official needs to buck up, espouse, profess and act on the public version of the organization’s stated policy. In our day, we have many visible conflicts of this sort to deal with. For example, we know that one of more high-ranking officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) acted on personal convictions relating to the President of the United States. The same thing occurred within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). I am not making a politically-based example or argument here; this kind of shenanigan happens across the political spectrum—and it is not healthy for the Republic.

Several years ago I wrote that truth-telling is an American value. Although it gets betrayed and trampled on numerous times at the highest levels of government, it is still an American value.

Occasionally, it helps us to go back in history to see what previous public officials have said and done about truth-telling, transparency and responsibility in government. One such prominent elected official was former Texas Attorney John Ben Shepperd (1953-57). General Shepperd believed that all elected officials need to be ready to, “Live in a glass house with the curtains open.” Early in his tenure, John Ben wrote and published the Public Official’s Creed, a guide for politicians to live and work by. I believe that much, if not all, of his creed should stand with as much credibility today as it did in 1953.

A Public Official’s Creed, from a speech to the Texas Association of Constables and Justices of the Peace, Houston, Texas, May 30, 1953:

“A conscientious public official serves the people as guardian of their welfare, defender of their institutions, servant of their will, and champion of their cause, by dedicating himself . . . .

To put God and Country above party, persons and private interests.

To strive to promote a religious State but to avoid a State Religion.

To safeguard the people’s right to free, unfettered elections, the secret ballot and the honest count.

To encourage decentralized government as a safeguard to the liberties of the people, and to keep government their servant and not their master.

To uphold the law and expose corruption wherever it may be, and to oppose those who break the law in spirit as well as those who violate it in letter.

To strive to make his office an example of efficiency, economy and integrity.

To give a day’s work for a day’s pay, and to require the same of his employees.

To make no private promises, grant no special favors and receive no personal gifts which would compromise his official integrity.

To use no official power or information for personal gain to himself or to others.

To protect the institution of private property by discouraging the excessive acquisition of land and other goods on the part of the government.

To defend the institution of private enterprise by keeping government out of business and out of competition with private capital.

To keep the public informed of his office’s activities, to respect the right and function of the Press as the people’s informant, and to invite public scrutiny and constructive criticism.

To assist the public schools in the civic education of children.

To be attentive to the activities and needs of other offices and branches of the government.

To strive to make his personal conduct exemplary of morality and good citizenship, and to fulfill the duties of a private citizen as well as a public servant.”

All this smacks of civility as well. I summarize about civility from my last book:

“Parents teach their children at an early age to be civil and respectful to others–and to the truth. This is getting difficult in our times because of broken families and families with no set, “Boundaries.” When a family sets behavioral boundaries, it establishes the framework for acceptable behavior by the members of that household. Both parents and children are not allowed to transgress those boundaries and that leads to the learning of civility in a powerful way. By extension, those familial principles of behavior are then extended to a larger public audience at town halls and school meetings, for example. Children learn that it is not the person with the loudest dissenting voice that rules. Rather, it’s usually the person with the most logical and convincing argument.”

Our first President, George Washington, copied into his notebook 110, “Rules of civility, and decent behavior in company and conversation,” which he took for a 16th century French Jesuit text. Rule #6 is, “Sleep not while others speak; sit not when others stand; Speak not when you should hold your peace; Walk not when others stop.”  Public officials would do well to use President Washington’s civility lessons that he learned at a young age.


Author: Dr. Robert Brescia is a U.S. Army veteran, having served the nation for 27 years as a soldier, NCO, and commissioned officer. He loves helping other veterans when he can. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Please contact him at [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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