Confessions of a Policy Analyst: Ethical Dilemmas Facing Economic Professionals in Government

A revised version in George DeMartino and Deirdre McClosky, Oxford University Press Handbook on Professional Economic Ethics is Forthcoming

Paper presented to the Joint IIPPE AHE FAPE 2012 Conference on Political Economy and the Outlook for Capitalism, July 5-8, 2012, Paris, France.

45 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2013  

Robert H. Nelson

University of Maryland - School of Public Policy

Date Written: July 5, 2012

Abstract

From 1975 to 1993, the author worked as a federal career economist in the Office of Policy Analysis in the Office of the Secretary of the Interior. In this capacity, he was involved in many Interior Department policy discussions, and was often asked by top Interior officials to contribute both written and oral analyses of leading issues. This paper provides an autobiographical review of the author’s government experiences and policy impact over those years. It shows that in a politicized agency such as the Interior Department there is no well defined separation between the expert role of a policy analyst and the political and other “subjective” sides of Department workings. Policy analysts such as the author often helped political leadership to “frame” policy issues in both economic and political terms. They provided important institutional memory. They often also played an entrepreneurial role in suggesting new areas for policy investigation and potential policy change. The personal values of the policy analyst almost inevitably come importantly into play in these and other tasks -- as well as his or her expert knowledge. The paper explores, based on various personal case studies, how the significant role of personal values can raise ethical issues for the appropriate functioning of a policy analysis professional in a government setting.

Suggested Citation

Nelson, Robert H., Confessions of a Policy Analyst: Ethical Dilemmas Facing Economic Professionals in Government (July 5, 2012). A revised version in George DeMartino and Deirdre McClosky, Oxford University Press Handbook on Professional Economic Ethics is Forthcoming; Paper presented to the Joint IIPPE AHE FAPE 2012 Conference on Political Economy and the Outlook for Capitalism, July 5-8, 2012, Paris, France. . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2211855 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2211855

Robert H. Nelson (Contact Author)

University of Maryland - School of Public Policy ( email )

College Park, MD 20742-1815
United States
301-405-6345 (Phone)
301-718-4377 (Fax)

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