Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Reinventing Government and Reaffirming Ethics: Implications for Organizational Development in the Public Service

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Reinventing Government and Reaffirming Ethics: Implications for Organizational Development in the Public Service

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article explores factors driving the reinventing government movement as well as the more strident anti-government sentiment in the United States. Although management/process failures, as discussed by the reinventing government community, undoubtedly feed this sentiment, another important cause may be the failure of government to meet fully the special ethical demands incumbent upon it. These special ethical demands are discussed and are shown to place special management burdens upon the public sector and to limit the application of business practices and methods there. If we conclude that government cannot in fact be run strictly as a business and that government does in fact adequately perform its assigned tasks, we are forced to search for other determinants of reinvention and anti-government sentiments.

This article posits that ethics failure (corruption and other forms of wrongdoing) is equally powerful as shortcomings of efficiency and effectiveness in explaining popular desires for reinventing or even eliminating government. This has significant implications not only for the reinventing government movement but also for the professional and organizational community. The development of professional and organizational ethical excellence is at least as important for the practice and image of the public service as the pursuit of excellence at the technical functions of government. Suggestions are offered for promoting the continuing ethical development of the public service.

INTRODUCTION

Programs of reform within the public sector often seem to operate at the level of management process concerned primarily with the administrative skill and competence of the public service. Much reform proceeds under the assumption that good government can be equated with efficient and effective government (assumptions influenced at least in the twentieth century by the tenets of scientific management). This article considers such reform efforts, looking especially at more recent manifestations of reform such as "reinventing government" (REGO).

Serious objections are presented to the underlying premise of REGO: that government can and should be run like a business. Government is shown to be sufficiently different from business, supporting the notion that, even though there are various management practices which can apply equally to both business and government, government must operate under its own theory of management. Most centrally, government assumes ethical responsibilities which are both different from, and more demanding than, those facing the private sector. This suggests that the reinvention of government would profit by equal attention to failure of ethics as to failures of management techniques.

The twentieth century has seen repeated efforts at studying the operations of government with the objective of improving the practice of the public service (Arnold, 1995). The earliest phases of this process of study and review focused on building and rationalizing the administrative functions and capacity of the Executive Branch. Later directions for reform at the federal level, particularly during the 1960s, focused on preparing the government to manage a growing and more complex social policy arena.

Common to both of these periods of governmental self-examination, as well as to the Jacksonian and civil service "reform" of the nineteenth century, has been the acceptance of government as an essential social agency. Government as regulator, builder, and guardian of the vulnerable was not generally a point of dispute. With the possible exception of the Jacksonian era, these periods of reform can be thought of as genuine attempts at organizational development within the federal government. Here, reform was operating as a theory of (public) organization.

More recent reassessments of the operations of government has assumed a decidedly critical, ideological stance towards the public service. …

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