Professional Codes of Ethics for Public Administrators: What Are They Really Telling Us?

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Public Integrity

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Professional codes of ethics are widely regarded as an authority for public administrators as they navigate ethical decision-making. Despite this importance, the codes themselves have not been evaluated for the tensions that may exist amongst different codes of ethics documents. Through a conventional content analysis of seven codes of ethics documents, I demonstrate that there are differing conceptions of what constitutes the “public interest.” Furthermore, I show how codes of ethics documents imply different levels of expectations on individual practitioners as it pertains to personal morality. I then show how there is emphasis on what not to do and not enough emphasis on the possible and feasible ethical decisions that can be made. I conclude with a discussion that suggests future research should pay attention to the nuances behind what codes of ethics documents are really expressing while focusing on a tempered approach between reactive and unrealistically aspirational values.


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