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How Government Makes Ethical Choices, Essay Example

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Essay

The question of how government makes ethical choices is not only relevant to individuals studying administration, but also to the constituents of the government.  Indeed, it is only via a more holistic vision of government, and how government decisions “affect” individuals, that moral and ethical questions regarding accountability come into view. Friedrich and Finer, two of the most early and prominent proponents of decision making in government, provide important, contrasting, viewpoints regarding how administrators should ultimately function in a responsible manner.  In particular, their focus and analysis of administrator responsibility, legislative intent, and results merit discussion.

Samuel Finer, one of the greatest political scientists of his era, promoted a “rational” approach to government administration.  Although “rational” has become a loaded word in today’s cultural context, Finer’s understanding was clear: Administrators were to act as rational implementers of legislative acts resulting in an “economical” or “efficient” ending. In his critique of government administration, Finer adopted a “Tayloresque” (referring to Frederick Taylor) emphasis on implementing policy in a quick and systematized manner (Stillman, 440). A major factor in Finer’s conceptualization of how government administrators should function was legislative intent: Finer gave a high position to the legislature and its ability to adequately define what administrators should do.  Indeed, due to Finer’s trust in the legislative process, his understanding of responsibility was tethered to respecting the decision of intent of lawmakers.   This understanding also related to issues of accountability: Administrators were accountable based on their ability to produce in the rational milieu; while questions regarding an administrator’s interpretation were not as relevant, the ability to implement effectively was important (Finer, 150).

Carl Friedrich posited a different role for government and responsibility.  Friedrich eschewed Finer’s rationalist approach to administration in order to build room for a “creative interpretation” of the implementation of laws.  Building on an earlier tradition created by Woodrow Wilson, Friedrich propounded that administrators had latitude in how laws were ultimately implemented.  Indeed, not only do administrators have latitude, but they should actively use their expertise in order to make sure that the “correct” interpretation is adopted.  This brings up another area where Finer and Friedrich differ: the infallibility of legislative intent.  While Finer believes that legislators pass law and administrators implement them, Freidrich envisions a more robust understanding of administrator’s role.  This is not to say that Friedrich propounded an overturning of legislative intent, but he did believe that administrators could add value to existing legislation- particularly where legislators left adequate ambiguity that administrators’ expertise could fill.  This understanding of administration also fed into Freidrich’s understanding of what constituted ethical or responsible policies.  Friedrich thought that administrators would be acting unethically (to both the government and its stakeholders) if it did not intervene (in a legal way) to bring about the “best” implementation of policies.  Of course there is substantial over what “best” ultimately means, but Friedrich thought the creative input of administrators was a key variable in ensuring that outcome.  Based on this presentation, Friedrich’s understanding of accountability was different and more holistic.  In addition to adhering to the basic spirit of legislation, there was also a normative interpretation of what was “right” for the populace.  Administrators should not only think about the implementation, but the impact of the implementation on the affected population.

References

Finer, S.E. (1950). A primer of public administration. Berkeley: University of California.

Friedrich, C.J. (1963). Man and his government: empirical theory of politics. New York: McGraw Hill.

Stillman, R. J. (2010). Public administration: Concepts and cases (9th ed.). Boston: Wadsworth. (p. 1-494). ISBN: 978-0-618-99301-7.

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