WWW.Ethics.Gov: Issues and Challenges Facing Public Managers

Article excerpt

It is no secret that governments worldwide are going "online" (i.e., accessing the Internet and establishing Web sites) at a very rapid rate. Tracking statistics recorded in 1997 show there are 1,915 national level government agencies worldwide with Web sites (http://w3.arizona.edu/~CyPRG/). The United States leads all countries with 205 agencies online. Canada with 153 agencies and Australia with 151 online agencies follow the United States. The French national government has 104 agencies online, the Netherlands 74, the United Kingdom 73, Germany 38, and Russia has only five agencies with Web sites. In the Middle East, Israel leads other nations with 75 sites, and Egypt has seven sites. In South America, Argentina and Brazil have 35 and 34 sites, respectively. In the Far East, Malaysia leads other nations with 59 sites, Japan has 33 sites, and one site has been documented for China.

At the subnational level in the United States, more than 2,500 state government agencies have established Web sites. Texas state government leads all states with 134 agencies online. Utah and California are second and third, respectively, with 122 Utah online agencies and 115 California agencies online. Cities and counties have also been going online at a rapid rate. Statistics show, for example, that in Florida 26 of the state's 67 counties (39 percent) have established Web sites and 10 percent of Florida's 395 municipalities are online (http://www.piperinfo.com). A similar pattern exists for New York where 36 percent of the state's 58 counties are online and 7 percent of its municipalities are online. In California, the most populated state in the nation, 48 percent of the counties and 30 percent of the municipalities have established Web sites.

These statistics document the rapid diffusion of a new information technology and, perhaps most importantly, signal what many believe are profound changes taking place in the social and governmental fabrics of many countries. "We are moving rapidly," writes one scholar (Gregorian, 1997, 597), "to the dawn of an information revolution that may well parallel the Industrial Revolution in its impact and far-reaching consequences."

Transformations in education, commerce, industry, entertainment, politics, government, and even church and family are taking place. While the magnitude of change in these many sectors appears to be substantial, there is very little knowledge or understanding of the consequences in any sector.

This paper takes a step toward exploring what the consequences may be for public managers and the public when governments go online. More specifically, the paper examines the ethical and managerial issues and challenges facing public managers when their governments go online (i.e., access the Internet and establish Web sites). The paper is organized into five sections. The first section discusses the meaning of cyber management as a prelude to developing organizational strategies for promoting Internet use and discouraging Internet abuse. Section 2 draws the reader's attention to the specific content of acceptable use policies for the Internet. Section 3 then explores the challenges facing public managers to understand and abate the undesirable and sometimes unethical consequences that Internet usage may have for social or group life in public organizations. This discussion is followed by the fourth section, an examination of government use and abuse of the Internet. The final section highlights questions that must be answered in order for public managers to become effective cyber-age managers.

Cyber Management

Public organizations and private-sector firms are reorganizing and realigning themselves to take full advantage of new information technology and the promise of the Internet as a medium for rapid communication and information retrieval and dissemination. Indeed, a new occupational speciality has been created for just this purpose--the Webmaster. …