Administrative ethics and accountability
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Administrative Ethics and Accountability. Lecture 17 – Administrative Processes in Government. The Origins and Nature of Honor. Our modern concepts of honor have their origins in ancient Greece and Rome.

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Administrative Ethics and Accountability

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Administrative ethics and accountability

Administrative Ethics and Accountability

Lecture 17 – Administrative Processes in Government

The origins and nature of honor

The Origins and Nature of Honor

  • Our modern concepts of honor have their origins in ancient Greece and Rome.

    • Classic example – Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus – 458 B.C., with Rome threatened by military defeat, Cincinnatus, a farmer, was appointed dictator by the Senate to deal with the emergency. Abandoned his plow in midfield, defeated the enemy in 16 days, resigned the dictatorship, and returned to farming.

    • George Washinton, one of the few Cincinnatus figures in world history.

The origins and nature of honor1

The Origins and Nature of Honor

  • Term limits seek to enforce legislative honor.

  • Sense of honor derived from family, friends, and the media. Based on notions of medieval chivalry.

  • Aristotle to medieval chivalry to aristocratic dueling codes to modern concept of the gentleman.

  • Star Trek and Star Wars.

National honor

National Honor

  • Once reserved for the nobility, honor has since the eighteenth century become increasingly democratized.

  • As absolutist governments declined, national honor became a factor that influenced whole peoples.

    • France vs. Great Britain in 1940.

Why honor precedes ethics

Why Honor Precedes Ethics

  • Honor comes before ethics because a person without honor has no moral compass and does not know which way to turn to be ethical.

Why honor precedes ethics1

Why Honor Precedes Ethics

  • Honor goes to the essence of public affairs; Since ancient times only individuals perceived to be honorable could be trusted with the public’s business.

  • Honor always has a context, is always influenced by the prevailing organizational and political culture.

    • Melvin Belli, Errol Flynn, and the French lawsuit.

Dimensions of honor

Dimensions of Honor

  • “Ex officio” – the honor associated with the office – most superficial.

  • The outward perception of one’s reputation – business “goodwill”.

Dimensions of honor1

Dimensions of Honor

  • True honor begins with personal integrity and honesty.

    • Honesty is the essence of honor.

    • Those with integrity live up to their stated principles and their word.

    • The core of administrative ethics is integrity of communication.

    • Integrated strength or character – “gravitas”.

Dimensions of honor2

Dimensions of Honor

  • Administrators with integrity understand that they have a special moral obligation to the people they serve.

  • Lacking a traditional nobility, republican governments give leadership roles to senior bureaucrats and elected officials.

Dimensions of honor3

Dimensions of Honor

  • Once in office, their fellow citizens rightly expect them to take moral and career risks, parallel to the traditional risks of combat, to protect their fellow citizens, to protect the regime, to protect the constitution.

  • Unfortunately, lapses of honor take place all of the time.

Corruption in government

Corruption in Government

  • Recurrent scandals and instances of official mischief in government pose a great threat to the democratic notions of the rule of law.

  • By engaging in misuse of office for self-gain, corrupt representatives of the people illegally put themselves above the law.

  • Moreover, a public official’s wrongdoing undermines the argument that all people are created equal.

Corruption in government1

Corruption in Government



  • Corruption also undermines economic rights.

    • Bribery in government contracting abridges due process for the bidders and compromises efficiency.

  • However, bribery does supplement the salary of poorly paid public officials in some systems and increases access to the process.



  • But exposure of bribery undermines confidence in government and increases cynicism.

  • For some, the single most important cause of corruption is individual greed; For others, it is a complex combination of opportunity, risk, organizational culture, and individual susceptibility.

Lies big and little

Lies Big and Little

  • A big lie is an untruth so great or so audacious that it is bound to have an effect on public opinion.

    • Adolph Hitler.

    • Joseph McCarthy.

      • Lies, Democrats, and Vietnam.

Lies big and little1

Lies Big and Little

  • Lying for your country.

    • Ambassadors.

    • Patron saint of lying politicians – Niccolo Machiavelli.

    • When is it acceptable to tell a lie not for personal benefit but for a perceived public good?

Dirty hands dilemma

Dirty Hands Dilemma

  • When do desirable public ends justify the lying means? When is doing evil acceptable to produce a greater political good?

    • Tension between perceived professional obligations and long-standing moral obligations.

Dirty hands dilemma1

Dirty Hands Dilemma

  • Machiavelli did not see it as a dilemma at all: professional responsibilities supercede moral judgments in all situations.

  • Others would argue that public officials must be held accountable for their unethical acts even if those acts were done in the name of the common good and performed by someone claiming to be a professional or a mere functionary.

Dirty hands dilemma2

Dirty Hands Dilemma

  • Most common form of the dilemma is lying (direct falsehoods, exaggerations, omissions, evasions, deceptions, duplicity, and so on.

  • Do public officials have a special obligation to tell the truth (popular sovereignty)? Do their offices permit them special excuses to depart from truth-telling (government survival and public safety)?

  • Competing stakeholders often create the dilemma.

Administrative ethics

Administrative Ethics

  • Is there administrative ethics at all?

    • Ethic of neutrality?

    • Ethic of structure?

  • Answer: yes!

    • Administrators have a positive duty to do no harm.

    • “Nuremberg defense” is invalid.

      • Following orders is no excuse.

      • Soldiers and bureaucrats have a positive obligation to disobey illegal and immoral orders.

Hierarchy of ethics

Hierarchy of Ethics

  • Public administrator is frequently adrift in a sea of competing duties and obligations.

  • Not so much stakeholder conflicts as conflicting responsibilities.

  • Hierarchy of ethics.

    • Personal morality – sense of right and wrong.

    • Professional ethics – professional norms.

    • Organizational ethics – organizational culture.

    • Social ethics – Social obligation to protect individuals and further the progress of the group.

Hierarchy of ethics1

Hierarchy of Ethics

  • Iran-Contra Affair.

    • Reagan administration sold arms to Iran (to get Iran to negotiate release hostages in Lebanon) at higher than normal prices and used surplus to fund Contras in Iran.

    • Violation to sell arms to Iran or to fund Contras.

    • Oliver North violated organizational and social ethics, but justified it on the basis of personal morality and duty to country.

  • Appeal to higher law always problematic.



  • Whistleblowing refers to what happens when an employee decides that obligations to society come before obligations to an organization.

  • A whistleblower is an individual who believes that the public interest overrides the interests of his or her organization and publicly blows the whistle on – exposes – corrupt, illegal, fraudulent, or harmful activity.

  • Whistleblowers not well received. “Squealers” and blacklists.



  • A. Ernest Fitzgerald (GS-17 deputy for Management Systems in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force) testified on cost overruns on the C-5A military cargo plane.

  • Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

Protecting whistleblowers

Protecting Whistleblowers

  • Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

    • Unlawful to retaliate against whistleblowers.

  • Freedom of Information Act of 1966.

    • Provides justification for whistleblowing.

  • Merit Systems Protection Board.

  • 34 state and federal laws.

  • Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989.

  • False Claims Act of 1986.

Codes of honor conduct and ethics

Codes of Honor, Conduct, and Ethics

  • Code of honor that forced Alexander Hamilton to duel Aaron Burr in 1803 (pistols at ten paces). Hamilton lost, and died.

  • Dueling over honor has not subsided; it only takes new forms (cars, pistols, automatic weapons).

Honorable behavior

Honorable Behavior

  • We still expect leaders to act honorably and disdain them when they do not.

    • Titanic 1912; HMS Birkenhead 1852.

      • Edward John Smith vs. J. Bruce Ismay.

  • Codes of honor have their origins in ancient precepts about how a person should behave in the face of danger, when confronted with temptation or before authority figures.

Honorable behavior1

Honorable Behavior

  • Ten Commandments.

  • As life got more complicated codes developed for various occupations.

  • Most famous – code of warriors – chivalric code.

  • But, class-based.

  • How did aristocratic gentlemen get common people to behave?

  • Answer: common law – the law was intended to have a deterrent effect.

Standards of conduct

Standards of Conduct

  • Many civilian government agencies now have standards of conduct, formal guidelines, for ethical behavior.

  • Their objective is to ensure that employees refrain from using their official positions for private gain.

  • Standards of conduct relate to a specific organization; Codes of ethics apply to a whole profession or occupational category.

Codes of ethics

Codes of Ethics

  • American Society of Public Administration Code of Ethics.


  • International City Manager’s Association Code of Ethics.


Standards of conduct1

Standards of Conduct

  • Standards of ethical conduct for employees of the executive branch


  • Standards of conduct for the state of California procurement and contracting professionals.


Standards of conduct2

Standards of Conduct

  • University of California Statement of Ethical Values.


  • California State University Conflict of Interest Handbook.


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