Public Management as Ethics

“Public Management as Ethics.” The Oxford Handbook of Public Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.pp 161-181.

15 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2012

See all articles by J. Patrick Dobel

J. Patrick Dobel

University of Washington - Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance

Date Written: April 2, 2012

Abstract

A strong consensus exists on the importance of ethics in public management. While an unadorned listing of the values and attributes may not seem like much help, it aids not so much because it solves the problems, but identifies the checklist that institutional design issues and mangers must attend to. Obviously the values will come into conflict and require compromises. The existence of a values checklist, however, provides rhetorical and moral leverage for administrators throughout the world and legitimizes decisions, actions, and managerial strategies that support them against more limited efficiency, self-interested or outcome driven conceptions. Having clear values can focus the responsibility of individuals, focus and guide the creation of institutional cultures and provide a frame by which to exercise discretion, report accountability and engage the complex environment where public managers must simultaneously address the demands of law, accountability, discretion and creating and sustaining the power base to achieve public purposes. These values inhere in a theory of personal responsibility where individuals promise within an institutional context to give serious weight to the values. It is reinforced by a theory of institutions that see institutions as bound to public purpose and accountability that require competence, long-term trusteeship and efficient service to all citizens.

Herbert Simon pointed out many years ago that lists of character and values will not provide clarity on decision because they often conflict and under-determine decisions. No list of principles, even ones with ordinal rankings, can provide clear answers for complex, ever-changing political and organizational situations. But clarity about values and commitments do provide a universe of justifications that public managers should take into account in making and evaluating decisions. These values provide a legitimate rhetorical opening for managers, citizens, and elected officials to deliberate and critique decisions.

Public management unfolds through choice, and choice involves ethical decision through hundreds of daily actions that impact the welfare of others and give reality to the rights and aspirations of government. Choices define the activity as ethical bounded by obligation and personal responsibility. These ethical commitments provide meaningful and powerful criteria to inform institutional design and managerial discretion. They present design imperatives that can adapt to multiple institutional arrangements and governmental systems. The role of ethics and ethics policy becomes even more central to public management in a time of devolved.

Keywords: public management, ethics, values, organizations, new public management, Code of Ethics

Suggested Citation

Dobel, J. Patrick, Public Management as Ethics (April 2, 2012). “Public Management as Ethics.” The Oxford Handbook of Public Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.pp 161-181., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2033462

J. Patrick Dobel (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance ( email )

Box 353055
Seattle, WA 98195
United States
206-616-1680 (Phone)

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