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The unique position of government officials is that of both respect and trust. A nation will elect men and women from themselves that they respect or value their opinions. Once in office many decisions will be made that will have a profound effect on the citizens of the nation. That is why trust is so important. The people trust that the officials they have elected will hold steadfast to their morals, ideas, and ethical principles that they began with. I will examine the social and ethical obligations that the government has to its society and why societies need the government to fulfill their ethical duties. Also I will explain the optimal ethical, decision-making processes for making such determinations. The ability of the government to represent the interest of of entire population gives great power to the members of it. People rightly say that the role of government is to provide an orderly society, but it also provides an enforceable set of moral and ethical values which control the functioning of our society. Within the laws are embedded (hopefully) our culture’s moral values. As members of our society we have an obligation to conform to these societal values in order to contribute to a peaceful and orderly society.
It is important to understand what the government’s role in a society is to understand the ethical and social obligations that it has to the people. Normally viewed as a group, or organization a government will exercise authority, controls, and administer public policy and directs control of its members (). Typically, the term “government” refers to the civil government of a sovereign state which can be local, national, or international. However, commercial, academic, religious, or other formal organizations are also governed by internal bodies. Such bodies may be called boards of directors, managers, or governors or they may be known as the administration (as in schools) or councils of elders (as in forest). The size of governments can vary by region or purpose. Growth of an organization advances the complexity of its government, therefore small towns or small-to-medium privately operated enterprises will have fewer officials than typically larger organizations such as multinational corporations which tend to have multiple interlocking, hierarchical layers of administration and governance. As complexity increases and the nature of governance become more complicated, so does the need for formal policies and procedures.
The expression “The Public Trust” when applied to governments is described as, responsibility the public places on government to care for their interests.”() This implies that the members of a society expect its government to carry its self in an ethical and deliberate manner. A nineteenth century bureaucracy writer, Max Weber, discussed an “ideal type” bureaucracy puts forward that public servants and their institutions do not have ownership over their positions () Rather, the tax-payers of the society. Government officials are elected and appointed to pursue the objectives and goals that are most advantageous for the society. The elected officials and political appointees that are selected to work in a bureaucracy are public servants() If the public servants conduct in pursuit of the goals and objectives remains consistent with the laws and ethical guidelines set in place by the society, the public trust is being satisfied . However, if the authority that is placed into the hands of the public servants is being abused or the goals and objectives are not being met, public interest is being disappointed(). At times public resources are sometimes utilized to serve the personal interest of officials. Too often we have seen this abuse at virtually every level of government. Many in the field of public administration have questioned how we have arrived at a point where there is so much unethical, immoral, and illegal activity in government. In an era where high profile lapses by public-sector leaders in ethical and moral judgment are frequently exposed, citizens have come to expect increasingly higher standards of ethical conduct as a broad range of activities are now viewed as immoral (Bowman, 1990). Increasing awareness and changing societal values have been linked to the public’s interest in ethics
management (Maesschalck, 2004/5). Accordingly, citizens have become more assertive and
demanding toward leaders in the public-sector showing less tolerance for leaders’ mistakes,
shortcomings, and structural challenges. As such public leaders are generally expected to
meticulously conform to standards higher than those aligned with personal morality (Lewis,
1991). Thus public leaders can often find this expectation to maintain collectively high and even
idealistic levels of ethical responsibility to be quite overwhelming.
In general, leaders in the public-sector are expected to maintain a level of morality and integrity which serves the interests of society while at the same time demonstrates personal responsibility, diplomacy, and truthfulness. As previously noted, the ethical role and responsibility of public officials and the ethical foundations of public administration have been viewed in a variety of ways by several scholars and practitioners. some of the primary ethical obligations and expectations which have been considered fundamental to the role of the public administrator are listed. These include: (a) demonstrating concern for the public good and representing the 14 interests of society, (b) abiding by appropriate state, federal, and constitutional laws while at the same time having respect for the procedures within the organization, (c) engaging in basic managerial and supervisory responsibilities such as oversight and planning, (d) being honest and truthful in the discharge of official information, (e) acting in reason, fairness, and impartiality in every situation, (f) demonstrating prudence and good judgment in decision-making, (g) providing confidence to citizenry, stakeholders, and subordinates in the abilities of the official to perform the required duties, and demonstrating intelligence and aptitude in the assigned or elected position, and (h) also providing subordinates with the adequate direction and motivational encouragement needed to perform their responsibilities. Thus given these views, many people might say that the ethical role of the public administrator can be summed up as follows: serve the public interest while being fair, honest, lawful, trustworthy, and doing the least amount harm(). Keeping the fore mentioned in mind, we can see the government’s obligation to the society spans across many different areas. If it is the government’s responsibility to do the least amount of harm, should create laws to stop its citizens from hurting themselves? If the behavior can directly be linked to endangering another person then yes it is the responsibility of the government. It is understood that alcohol impairs one’s judgment, so if that person were to get behind the wheel inebriated than they risk harming not only themselves but others. When people become addicted to narcotics they stop being productive members of society. Not only can they become dangerous, but they can fail to fulfill finical obligations. Thusly, it is illegal to sell, purchase, or possess controlled substances without a prescription. These actions have an immediate effect on others, but there are instances that the behavior would not affect others. For instance, in every state in America if you are caught driving without a seatbelt you can be pulled over. The government in this case has established rules to influence the society develop habits that will keep them safe. On the other hand, you can look at smoking, which is associated with lung cancer along with many other terminal diseases. In this case however, the government does not have laws in place that ban smoking. There are higher taxes and smoke-free areas that make it inconvenient but it is still legal. So where is the line drawn between the obligations of the government and the rights of the people? Unfortunately, the case of tobacco highlights a profound problem with special interest groups ().
In the government, there are many good ways to fulfill social and ethical obligations through communication. Access, transparency, public resources, and free speech are all effective ways of achieving this. Communication encourages active participation in the political process, in other words it encourages. It is a government’s ethical responsibility to ensure that every constituent has equal access to elected officials. When equal access is achieved whether it come through developing technological mediums or public forums, the whole of the population’s goals can be heard. Adversely, if few people inside of a population, such as, lobbyist or affluent individuals receive more attention due to their status than goals of the society will not be met. One key principle for elected officials is never accept favors from friends or associates because it can lead to them asking for favors in return, which is inequitable to the remaining. The ability of citizens to see daily activity of the government is known as transparency. This certainly promotes a government’s accountability, but also gives the members of a society a peace of mind in knowing the actions of their government. To guarantee transparency, states have laws that require meetings to be open to the public (the Brown Act in California) as well as, access to government records at no cost to the people. The obligation of the government to provide this sort of transparency is vital to effective leadership. Engagement of the public enhances effectiveness of the government; also it improves the quality of decisions. Lack of transparency in government leads to a system lacking necessary checks and balances, where officials can do what they please. Almost all of the time when public resources are utilized they should be used for public purposes. Generally speaking, public resources must be used for public purposes. Public resources are included in many things, such as, government employees time, taxpayer’s money, or even land that belongs to a community. Government’s have a very strong social obligation to ensure that these resources are being utilized in an appropriate manner. In the state of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was charged with abusing tax-payers dollars to pursue extra-marital affairs in Argentina. Not only did this leave a black eye on the state of South Carolina there has been a severe breech of public trust between South Carolinians and the state government. and It is imperative that
The National Government Ethics Survey, conducted June 25-Aug. 15, 2007, included responses from 774 federal, state and local government employees, and had a margin of error of 3.5 percent. It was the first time ERC broke out government employee responses from its larger survey of public and private sector employees, which included 3,452 in 2007.
Harned said the survey found that 52 percent of government employees reported witnessing some kind of misconduct by co-workers in 2006. In addition, 23 percent said they saw or experienced abusive behavior, 21 percent witnessed safety violations and 20 percent knew someone who had lied to their colleagues or was involved in a possible conflict of interest.
Most reports of misconduct involved ethical breaches, rather than legal violations, according to ERC.
Government employees as a whole reported 3 percent more incidents of falsifying or altering documents and 4 percent more incidents of lying to employees than their private sector counterparts did.
Harned said reporting misconduct was up 12 percent from 2005, from 58 percent to 70 percent. Eighty-nine percent of employees made their reports to an individual, rather than anonymously to a hotline, and usually approached lower-level local managers and not top officials in organizations.
When one considers an ethical decision model for the government the most important thing to remember is the decision represents the people. Thusly, it is even more imperative to demonstrate prudence, justice, honesty, and temperance in the process (Ruggerio, pg 108). To assist the government in making these difficult ethical decisions, the society should be involved. To involve the people it is important to remember the communication tools that where shown earlier. First, one must recognize the ethical issue that needs to be addressed. Accordingly, questions, such as, “Is there a negative consequence for a specific group of people?” must be answered. The government must also consider if it is a decision of the lesser of two evils vice two positive consequences or is it simply between one good and one bad alternative. Is there a question about the legality of something? After the issue has been determined the facts need to be gathered. Only the relevant facts of the issue need to be examined, but all facts must be considered. Is it possible to gather more information and is the understanding of the issue well enough to make a decision? Is there any special interest in the decision or if a specific group has more at stake than that must be taken into consideration? One must understand all possible actions at this point and ensure all options have been identified. Now, one must evaluate all possible alternative actions by reviewing several approaches. What action will cause the least harm and most good? What action best supports the rights of all with interest in the decision? What action provides the most equal consequences for all? What is best for the society? What action most accurately represents the people the government represents? Once all approaches have been considered the government must make a decision. Lastly, the government will act on its decision, and view the outcome. It is important to reflect on the decision to truly understand if it turned out correctly and if anything should have been done differently. Only through reflection of actions can a government improve it capabilities to make more effective ethical decisions in the future.
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