Control the Virus: A Roadmap to the High Road

By Dr. Wayne Brock

            It is not difficult to see a virus infecting the public sector.

The temptation for public officials and administrators is extensive and throughout all levels of the public sector. It appears there is a virus throughout the country’s pubic service entities; a virus that needs to be treated to be controlled or eliminated. This virus can be treated through taking the high road: enforcement of a code of ethics.

Public administration and public organizations have various codes of ethics. The examples of unethical conduct provided in the prior paragraph would not occur if the professional  or agency code of ethics were enforced. The International City/County Management Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the American Society for Public Administration all have a code of ethics. The code of ethics is not statutory or regulatory, yet is a professional standard and customary expectation of behavior and morals for those that serve the public interest. The code of ethics begins with awareness, an individual acceptance to uphold and abide by ethical standards, and an organizational commitment to ethical conduct. The lack of the highest ethical expectations in any organization can spread the virus and drive the public toward a lack of trust and negative image of public agencies.  The code of ethics for any organization must be  actionable and enforceable – the code of ethics needs to be more than just words!

The work of the public agency is to create trust, build a positive image, and demand the highest standards of service to the public. Ethical conduct begins at the top – those at the highest level in the agency, municipality, state or federal entity must set the example. The road map to high ethical standards in public agencies begins with a commitment by those at the highest level to create the code of ethics to have meaning. Once there is meaning and substance agency leaders can implement the necessary actions to uphold the code of ethics and control the virus:

  1. Early Immunization -Academics provide the basics in public administration programs as a foundation and indoctrination for ethical expectations. Ethical training must be continuous throughout the organization.
  2. Annual Check-Ups – Establish the expectations, provide examples, provide case studies, and uphold expectations. Make high ethical standards part of the agency culture.
  3. Prescribed Medication – There must be referral, reprimand, remediation, or dismissal for unethical conduct of the agency or organizational code of conduct or the code of conduct of professional organizations.
  4. Review Insurance – Establishment and rules for an ethics panel, ethics commission, or civil service commission must be followed to ensure due process. The process must have enforcement capability to ensure ethical conduct throughout the organization.
  5. Center for Disease (Ethic) Control – Create or modify an ordinance, regulation, or statute requiring pubic notification and disclosure of unethical conduct of pubic officials, agency and organizational personnel through public notice with specific detail and resolution.

Ethics in public administration is a basic expectation for those in public service to serve the public. The public administrator must set the example for others to follow. Ethical conduct requires one to make the decision to eliminate the virus by taking the high road.

Sincere gratitude to Dr. Adriane Wheat for her review and editing of this document.

Photos courtesy of &

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