The headlines tell the story:

Report: Red Cross Spent 25 Percent of Haiti Donations on Internal Expenses – National Public Radio (NPR), June 16, 2016

FBI Arrests Almost Every Elected Official in Tiny Texas Town for Corruption – Independent, Feb. 8, 2016

California Congressman Duncan Hunter and Wife Charged with Corruption – The Guardian, Aug. 21, 2018

Ethics is especially important in public administration, from nonprofits to state and federal government. According to public sector watchdog GovLoop, ethical administrators act with integrity to uphold laws and regulations. They promote transparency and work for the greater good. Unfortunately, upright public servants who honor the constitution and rule of law may go unreported, while bad actors get heaps of media coverage.

Public Administrators are Public Servants

As BizFluent reporter Shane Hall put it, “Public administration ethics serve as reminders that officials’ decisions and actions should be based on the principle of serving the public rather than themselves.” While the public is rightly cynical when it comes to government ethics, Hall claims that this cynicism “invites public sector employees to be less ethical in their actions.”

An article by Caitlin Stein in PA Times (the official publication of the American Society for Public Administration) further discusses the issue of public trust. She said immoral and unethical behavior creates public mistrust and hurts an agency’s reputation. Stein maintains that many administrators force change “based on their perception of reality, no matter how unconstitutional or uncommon that perception may be.” This can result in a corrupt atmosphere. The solution, she says, is for administrators to focus in on the voice of the people and act without personal or political bias.

To regain respect and trust, Stein said public administrators “must ensure that their actions and decisions are transparent.” They must also ensure that their actions reflect “promises to the people” and “the wants of the people.”

How to Maintain Ethics in Public Administration

Hall cites George J. Gordon and Michael E. Milakovich, coauthors of Public Administration in America, noting that “public administration ethics are based on the central idea that public officials and employees are stewards of the public.” Luckily, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) outlines a code of ethics for government managers and public servants. Here’s their take on some of ASPA’s ethical standards:

  • Follow the Law: A framework of laws set boundaries for government action. Public administrators and employees need to understand these rules. They need to “work to improve counterproductive laws and policies.” They should also establish proper procedures to handle “public finances, support financial audits of agencies, protect privileged information and promote constitutional principles of due process, equality and fairness.”
  • Act with Personal Integrity: Ethical public servants can inspire confidence in public agencies and uphold the legitimacy of government. Agency employees should demonstrate integrity by being honest. They should respect others, act without partisanship, and avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Ensure Ethical Operations: Public administrators should promote ethical agency operations by “encouraging open communication, subordinating agency loyalties to the public interest, establishing ethical standards for behavior for agency employees and adopting policies that promote accountability.”
  • Uphold the Public Interest: Public resource managers must act in the public interest. They can do so by involving citizens in the decision-making process, rooting out discrimination and reporting corruption.

Public servants often face ethical dilemmas. A bachelor’s degree in public administration prepares students with an understanding of public management and knowledge of the ethical issues inherent in public administration.

The online undergraduate program at Barry University offers students an accelerated path to achieve their academic and professional goals. The program is perfect for adult learners seeking career opportunities in public and nonprofit organizations, emergency services administration, and public management.

Learn more about Barry University’s Bachelor of Public Administration online program.


BizFluent: What Are Public Administration Ethics?

GovLoop: The Five Core Values of Public Administration

PA Times: Ethical Considerations in Public Administration