New Ethics Journal Makes a Splashy Debut

By Ensign, David E. | Public Administration Review, January-February 1997 | Go to article overview

New Ethics Journal Makes a Splashy Debut


Ensign, David E., Public Administration Review


The measure of a state's public integrity laws -- campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics codes -- is not whether they restrict a cup of coffee, but how clearly and comprehensively they cover the variety of ethics decisions facing state officials and private interests in the course of daily life in state government. The inaugural edition of Public Integrity Annual (PIA), published in April by the Council of State Governments and the American Society of Public Administration, provides insight and information on such decisions.

PIA offers a timely look at the state of state ethics laws and includes a study by Marshall R. Goodman, Timothy J. Holp, and Karen M. Ludwig that ranks the relative strength of legislative ethics law. The rankings, which may surprise many observers of the legislative scene, take into consideration precisely the breadth of coverage of such codes.

The journal also reflects the breadth of the field of public integrity, with articles exploring the ethical implications of entrepreneurship (by Steven Cohen and William B. Eimicke) and privatization (by Peter Kobrak).

Cohen and Eimicke look at three well-knows cases -- the bankruptcy of Orange County; the Visalia, California, hotel project and the Indianapolis wastewater treatment plants -- to develop a list of dos and don'ts for public entrepreneurship and a general ethical framework for ensuring that such projects do not abuse the public trust. They conclude that "ethics and entrepreneurism cannot only peacefully coexist, they can actually be mutually reinforcing."

Kobrak is less sanguine about entrepreneurial activity involved in efforts to privatize government services. In "Privatization and Cozy Politics," he warns that too often "cozy political arrangements enable companies or nonprofit agencies to win public agency contracts through political influence rather than technical core competence." Looking briefly at the scandals that followed deregulation of the S&Ls and also the scandal-plagued Department of Housing and Urban Development, Kobrak concludes that "pervasive corruption over an extended period underscores how difficult it is to insure that privatization does, indeed, meet its objectives even while protecting the public sector from the dangers of cozy politics."

PIA also includes empirical studies on the effectiveness of ethics codes (Willa Bruce), influences on the ethical behavior and decision-making of public servants (Patricia Bellin Strait), and a national survey of city managers on how much trust community leaders have in local governments (Evan Berman).

Bruce reports her findings from a national survey of municipal clerks that sought information on the impact of legislated conduct codes and professional ethics codes. …

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