36262_CH03_FINAL - Chapter 3 Refining the Sense of Duty...

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T he duty-based approach to ethics derives the responsibilities of public administrators from the nature of the position they occupy. In accepting office, officials make a “promise to live up to the obligations of office . . . and to frame their judgments by standards embedded in the office’s responsi- bilities” (Dobel 1999, xi). Admittedly, it is somewhat artificial to separate the duty-based approach from other approaches to ethics. When public adminis- trators think about the obligations of a public servant, they are also likely to be thinking about the qualities, i.e., virtues they should have and the principles they should uphold. For example, in York Willbern’s (1984) six types of pub- lic morality, the first three types conform exactly to elements in the basic com- ponents of administrative ethics. According to Willbern, public administrators should manifest the key virtue of honesty, should act on the duty to serve the public and avoid conflicts of interest, and observe the principles of legality and procedural fairness. Dobel (1999) sees official responsibilities and the virtue of integrity as essentially linked. Still, it is useful to focus initially on the expectations of persons occupying a public service position and to explore the full scope of their duties. Public administrators are expected to serve individual citizens and to be accountable to the “people.” These responsibilities can be extended to include promotion of the democratic process itself (Burke 1986; Cooper 1991). They are respon- sible to their organization and to political superiors, but they also have responsibilities to themselves as professionals. When considering their pro- fessional identity, their role, and their relationships, administrators must Refining the Sense of Duty: Responsibilities of Public Administrators and the Issue of Agency Chapter 3 27
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grapple intellectually and in practice with a complex issue: What does it mean to be an “agent” of the various parties that administrators serve—the public, political superiors, and the organization? An agent is one who acts for another, but how much of his or her own independence is given up when assuming this role? In this chapter, we start with the expectations linked to the public serv- ice role and then turn to the issue of agency. The chapter concludes with sug- gestions about balancing the potentially conflicting norms and pressures that administrators encounter. From this discussion, we will refine the sense of duty and elaborate what duty entails for public administrators. The Responsibilities of Democratic Public Administrators Many of the basic responsibilities of administrators in a democratic society are part of the orientation that administrators bring to public office. These responsibilities can be summarized as follows, each of which later is dis- cussed further and illustrated with cases: 1. Put the public interest over personal interest. 2. Display a service orientation and a commitment to serve.
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36262_CH03_FINAL - Chapter 3 Refining the Sense of Duty...

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