Wanted: Ethical Behavior in Public Service
By Mike Reagen*
Seeing Christian Bale’s stunning performance in VICE, the Academy Award-Nominated film, tracking the Vatican Summit, waiting for Mueller’s Report and learning about Florida’s Sunshine Law made me recall Thomas Jefferson’s quote: “I consider ethics, as well as religion, as supplements to law in the government of man.”
American Society for Public Administration [ASPA] leaders also thought about Jefferson nearly 80 years ago when they began to promote accountability, professionalism, and the significance of public service across the United States.
ASPA 35 years ago crafted their laser-focused Code of Ethics, the practice of making moral public judgements about political action and political agents, especially the methods and judgements used to make policies, regulations and laws. Today, ASPA’s Code of Ethics gives us eight standards for government workers and criteria for candidates for appointed and elected office to follow, expecting all public servants to:
- Advance the Public Interest by subordinating personal interests and loyalties to serve all persons with courtesy, respect, and dedication to high standards above service to oneself.
- Uphold the Constitution and the Law by respecting, supporting and improving government constitutions, laws and policies bypromoting equality, fairness, representativeness, responsiveness and due process in protecting citizens’ rights and promoting the public good.
- Promote democratic participation by informing, encouraging and assisting the public to engage in active, open, transparent and responsive civitas and governance.
- Strengthen social equity by treating all persons with fairness, justice, and equality by respecting individual differences, rights, and freedoms. and promoting initiatives to reduce unfairness, injustice, and inequality in society.
- Communicate honestly, accurate comprehensive, and timely information and advice to elected and appointed officials, governing board members, and their staff, including those that may be unpopular…always based on a complete and impartial review of circumstances, missions and public needs.
- Demonstrate personal integrity by adhering to the highest standards of conduct to inspire public confidence and trust in public service by being truthful, honest, resistant to partisan pressures to not compromise and zealously guard against conflict of interest or its appearance.
- Strive for the highest standards of stewardship in all public service groupsby holding allaccountable for their efficient stewardship of public funds and resources through the open expression of dissent, protection of whistleblowing safeguards against reprisal and retribution.
Encourage excellence professional development by strengthening personal capabilities to keep up-to-date on emerging issues, practices, and potential problems. and acting competently and ethically.
The vast majority of our 21.9 million government employees [US Bureau of Labor Statistics], along with our 1,8 million active and 800,000 reserve military and estimated 500,000 US. Postal staff, are amazing public servants who daily assure America is Great and advance our civil society.
Most are out-of-sight and mind until we need them. For most, their work is not a job. It is a way of life dedicated to advancing our civil society. And every successful person and community knows achievement, as US Speaker Paul Ryan said, depends on people working together.
Surely, former President George H.W. Bush’s would agree. Recall his words: “Whoever says Americas best days are behind it are looking the wrong direction. The United States is the best and fairest and most decent nation on the face of the earth!”
But, the days between now and the 2020 elections will be rancorous. Serious domestic and international issues divide us. And some seeking to govern sadden us because they do so unethically by disparaging our governments and our public servants, attacking others to mask their own unethical behavior, blurring right from wrong, virtuous from unvirtuous to advance their own vested interests.
So, all of us might also recall the olde Chinese proverb “Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away! And acknowledge there is nobody here but us.
Perhaps by contrasting ASPA’s principles with what these folks say and do, we may, as Walter Cronkite urged during a previous troublesome time, reintroduce ethics into public service to restore people’s faith in government to fill a desperate need and assure democracy to continue to flourish.