Implicit in the concept of public administration is the idea that the conduct of public affairs differs from the conduct of private business. Public organizations must be accountable to the public sector and represent the public interest. Without such accountability, the public organization loses legitimacy.
The responsibility of the public administrator, therefore, is to emphasize accountability and legitimacy for the public organization. But this poses some special ethical dilemmas. First of all, to which public is the administrator supposed to be accountable? Public organizations frequently are accountable to many publics for achieving a diversity of objectives. Additionally, the various publics they serve may have different expectations and goals that may even be contradictory.
This question raises a second ethical dilemma for the public administrator. When it is determined to whom the public organization is accountable, the administrator must then determine for which activities the organization is responsible. The broader the range of activities for which the organization assumes responsibility, the more diverse the public to whom it must be accountable--and the more likely these publics will disagree as to appropriate governmental actions. Critical to the question, then, of public agency accountability is understanding the relationship between (1) accountability, (2) responsibility, and (3) responsiveness.
Because of the interaction between accountability, responsibility and responsiveness, public administrators must be acutely aware of acceptable and unacceptable practices in public affairs. A code of ethics standards should be developed to provide guidance to administrators. In a democratic society, the public has a right to know and examine how government performs its functions. The public also has the right to assume that both elected officials and public administrators will abide by constitutional and legal str...