Ethics Cooper Terry L 2006 essay

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Chapter 4: Administrative responsibility: The key to administrative ethics

Administrators are responsible for complying with the law -- and also for complying with the administrative responsibilities. Ethics requires a delicate balancing of objective and subjective responsibilities on the part of administrators. All this is easier said than done, of course. The administrator's role is complicated by a network of often conflicting responsibilities -- responsibilities to his or her own ethics, to immediate superiors, to his or her specific agency, to elected officials who speak for the public, and to the public good (which may not always be fully articulated within the desires of public officials) Furthermore, the law is not always clear-cut but it must be an important cornerstone of administrative policies. Of course, when administrative policies are potentially conflict with the law, an immediate red flag should be raised.

If an administrator does not have the authority to resolve a problem personally in a satisfactory manner, he or she at very least should appeal to those people who do -- either to a superior or even to a subordinate with specialized skills. Many individuals may have specialized expertise and seeking out their input and giving them responsibility in a more flexible manner can act as an aid in organizational decision-making. Hierarchies must be occasionally transgressed. The best decisions are made with deep and full knowledge of all of the issues at hand, not simply by rote or polling the public.

An additional advantage conveyed by the existence of the civil service is the input of genuinely specialized knowledge from experts. For example, when fighting a public health epidemic or dealing with an environmental problem, members of the public and politicians may not fully understand AIDS or global warming to the same degree as an scientist. By having an scientist who is a civil servant and can set policy and goals, the entire public can benefit in the long run -- long after politicians making day-to-day legislative decisions are no longer in office. Thinking long-term can be encouraged through the input of administrative bureaucrats in decision-making, as these members of government agencies are not beholden to elections.

Unfortunately, not all administrative bureaucrats are able to be far-sighted and may place their own agency or personal interests above that of the greater good. A regulator of food safety for the FDA, for example, may not prioritize communicating with other departments that affect human health, such as agriculture and education, and focus only on narrow, technical concerns about setting guidelines for handling food. An administrator's attitude is thus as vitally important as his or her specific duties and knowledge. Integrity is an indefinable quality that cannot be easily written into law but must be infused into all decision-making. Integrity plays an important role in maximizing organizational effectiveness as well as compassion.

Chapter 5: Conflicts of responsibility: The ethical dilemma

Ethical administrators may protest that ethics are 'easy' when their responsibilities are clear-cut, and they have a coherent sense of internal values. But what about when values and responsibilities are in conflict? For example, someone involved in the field of public health may feel torn between his or her cost-cutting responsibilities and the greater value of preserving human health. What about when conflicts among various sources of authority tear the administrative decision-maker in several directions, and different superiors are giving different instructions?

As bureaucracies grow increasingly complex and interconnected, such value conflicts are likely to increase. This is why it is essential that administrators have a personal as well as an objective sense of values, to broker such internal and external conflicts. Often subjective evaluations are the only way to weigh different potential decisions and prioritize specific outcomes. Personal decisions should not be self-interested: emotional reactions and a desire to merely further one's career or agency are different than a reasoned and compassionate evaluation of one's responsibilities. And reducing conflicts of interest are a final, but important aspect of decision-making, such as knowing when to excuse one's self from a decision, and to minimize personal and financial ties to the entities one deals…[continue]

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