Administrative Ethics

As a social scientist, I am fascinated by the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. The processes, the actors, the structure. All of it. And I am not the only one, as can easily be seen on social media. My friends on social media are diverse, so I see postings on different views of the new administration. Give him a chance, he is doing what he promised he would do…. all the way to impeach him, he is evil.

I don’t think Trump is evil. Maybe in a bit over his head, but time will tell. I am not a fan of “the sky is falling” approach, but I do think that vigilance about the decisions that are being made and the resulting implications are always needed – regardless of the administration. This is part of studying public administration.

Last night I was rereading (for the umpteenth time) the readings I assigned to the class. I usually review them, but this year in light of what is going on politically and therefore administratively, I am thoroughly rereading each. And I must say that the environment that surrounds the reader greatly impacts how the text is interpreted and understood. I’ve always known that, but it seems even more so this semester.

This is the opening paragraph for the first reading:

“Practitioners and scholars in the field of public administration have an extraordinary interest in the quality of governmental institutions. They share with all citizens a concern that the confidence and dependability of governments be achieved and secured. But, beyond this, those who have committed most of their lives to public service – advisors on public policy, practitioners sworn to faithful execution of the laws, and educators of present and future administrators – feel a special obligation to preserve the values that have so long contributed to an effective and progressive social order. They particularly appreciate the absolute necessity of integrity of the leaders in every branch of government – legislative, executive, and judicial. Without such integrity, government cannot gain and retain the confidence of the people it serves.” (Mosher, et al. 1974, Watergate: Implications for Responsible Government. In Shafritz and Hyde (eds) “Classics of Public Administration“, 7th ed., p 321.)

There is a lot in there, especially in light of the Trump administration’s decision to fire the Interim AG Sally Yates for voicing her opposition to an executive order because she felt it was not legal. Most American Government textbooks will say that the bureaucracy’s role is to implement the policies of the elected representatives. That is a very simplistic view, one that assumes 1) all the policies are legal, and 2) bureaucrats are automatons. Public administrators take an oath to above all else, uphold the Constitution. There will be times when public administrators need to choose between toting the administration’s line and what they feel to be ethical. She did, and she had to have known what the consequences would be. Kudos to her for standing up for her values. Too few have the moral aptitude and/or financial security to do so.

I am sure the conversation in tonight’s class will be lively and interesting. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, it is going to be a very interesting administration through a social scientist viewpoint.


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