Administrative Responsibility, Conflict, and Ethical ReflectionWhen performing the functions of a public administrator, your realm of responsibility typically requires you to take standard, established actions to resolve challenges. This standard approach may involve objective responsibilities, whereas, other situations might compel you to take responsibility according to your personal ethical code and internal sense of accountability and imposed obligation. Situations may not present you with one clear solution to the challenges you face, however. Fulfilling these concepts of objective and subjective administrative responsibility can be a difficult, complex, and stressful task given the multiplicity of roles one plays in todays society. However, the struggle is not just an internal one. Conflicts of authority, interest, and roles, also confound the role of the public administrator.For this weeks Discussion, review the Menzel (2009) article located in this weeks resources. Then, select a county administrator from the case study presented in the article and reflect on the ethical dilemma associated with his or her role in the scandal.With these thoughts in mind:Post a brief explanation of how ethical reflection might have helped the Pinellas County public administrators avoid the ethical scandal described in Menzels case study. Then, identify the county public administrator you selected and the ethical dilemma associated with his or her role in the scandal. Finally, explain whether the ethical dilemma you described represents conflict of authority, interest, or roles and explain why.Support your postings and responses with specific references to the resources.Read a selection of your colleagues’ postings.
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The Case of Corcoran State
MARTINELLA MCDONALD DRYBURGH
Studies that highlight how whistle-blowers in civil service draw attention to corrupt activities enable investigators to learn about the ethical dilemmas faced by
organization members. This article examines the definitions of whistle-blowing in
the literature, identifies changes in the cultural climate that have made dissent more
possible, proposes insights into the motivations of whistle-blowers, and considers
the ways whistle-blowers affect public policy. Specifically, it examines the case of
Richard Caruso and Steve Rigg, guards who blew the whistle on brutality toward
inmates at Californias Corcoran State Prison. The conclusion ties the case to current
issues in public administration.
In April 1994, Preston Tate, a twenty-five-year-old gang member and inmate in
Californias Corcoran State Prison, was shot and fatally wounded by a corrections
officer after Tate and his cellmate fought against two rival Hispanic gang members.
Tates death at the hands of a prison guard prompted two whistle-blowers to approach
the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with tales of abuse and brutality toward
inmates by corrections officers. The Corcoran case provides insight into how power
can be abused when civil servants have authority over incarcerated citizens.
Examples of whistle-blowing behavior can be found in popular media outlets
(Breen 2007; Padgett and Beach 2007). One of the most shocking whistle-blowing
cases to emerge from the public sector is the extreme abuse of prisoners by military
personnel at Abu Ghraib prison. From Deep Throat and the Watergate scandal to
Jeffrey Wigand and the congressional hearings on Big Tobacco, principled individuals have taken personal risks to expose wrongdoing in their organizations or
The present article explores whistle-blowing from several different perspectives.
It begins by defining whistle-blowing, then considers the environmental changes
Public Integrity, Spring 2009, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 155170.
© 2009 ASPA. All rights reserved.
ISSN 1099-9922/2009 $9.50 + 0.00.
Martinella McDonald Dryburgh
that have contributed to a rise in whistle-blowing and the individual and organizational motivations for whistle-blowing. The literature is explored to show just
how whistle-blowers affect public policy. Finally, the case of Corcoran prison is
examined in some detail.
What Is a Whistle-Blower?
Ralph Nader is credited with providing the first description of whistle-blowing behavior: the act of a man or woman who, believing that the public interest overrides
the interest of the organization he [sic] serves, publicly blows the whistle if the
organization is involved in corrupt, illegal, fraudulent or harmful activity (Nader et
al. 1972, vii). Since then, many researchers have studied whistle-blowing, and their
findings are included in the rich literature that explores ethical decision-making in
government (Menzel 2005).
In 1981, Alan F. Westin expanded on Naders definition by outlining the specific actions typically associated with whistle-blowing and how they can affect the
Whistle blowers, as we know, are employees who believe their organization is
engaged in illegal, dangerous, or unethical conduct. Usually, they try to have such
conduct corrected through inside complaint, but if it is not, the employee turns to
government authorities or the media and makes the charge public. Usually, whistle
blowers get fired. Sometimes they may be reinstated. Almost always their experiences
are traumatic, and their careers and lives are profoundly affected. (1981, 1)
Later, Frederick Elliston et al. (1985) created a more restrictive, yet still important,
definition of whistle-blowing. They asserted that whistle-blowing is an intentional
action with four component parts:
1. An individual performs an action or series of actions intended to make
2. The information is made a matter of public record.
3. The information is about possible or actual, nontrivial wrongdoing in an
4. The individual who performs the action is a member or former member of
the organization (1985, 15).
An important element of the definition is the fourth component, and how it relates
to civil servants. Even when an employee participates in whistle-blowing behavior
and is seen as disloyal to the organization and fellow employees, there is loyalty to
the overall mission of the government agency (Elliston et al. 1985, 15).
In 1991, Westman added to the scholarly definition of whistle-blowing by including employees who question an agencys improper practices through its internal
hierarchy as well as those who refuse to follow illegal commands. As he pointed out,
whistle-blowing can involve acts that violate codes of professional ethics and acts
The author thanks Dr. Douglas J. Watson, director of the Public Affairs Program in
the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, for his valuable contributions to this article.
Personal and Policy Implications of Whistle-Blowing
that are legal but nonetheless dangerous to public health and safety (Westman 1991).
His definition of whistle-blowing also includes employees who make allegations
directly to media outlets or other organizations not involved in law enforcement.
Westman divides whistle-blowers into three categories: (1) passive whistleblowers are people who appear before government authorities to provide legally requested
Overall, whistle-blowers can be
information, as when an employee testifies
thought of as individuals who
before Congress; (2) active whistle-blowers
voice concerns about their fellow employees break away from organizational
practices either externally or internally; (3)
ranks, often at great personal and
embryonic whistle-blowers are individuals
professional risk, to expose unethical
who are terminated before they can share their
or illegal behavior to external
concerns with internal or external authorities
authorities and the general public.
(Westman 1991, 20).
These definitions are an all-encompassing
view of who can be considered a whistleblower. Overall, whistle-blowers can be thought of as individuals who break away
from organizational ranks, often at great personal and professional risk, to expose
unethical or illegal behavior to external authorities and the general public (Jos et
Whistle-Blowing on the Rise
Researchers cite several reasons for the rise in whistle-blowing since the 1970s.
Westin (1981) attributes it to certain changes in the social, legal, and business environments. Socially, the student activists of the 1960s entered the workplace in the
1970s and brought with them a new sense of personal responsibility for confronting
unlawful or illegitimate authority (1981, 7). Legally, state and federal laws were
enacted to protect employees from discriminatory practices by employers during
hiring and firing decisions. Other statutes were enacted to protect consumers from
unfair business practices, such as truth-in-lending laws, the Environmental Protection Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (Westin 1981).
Glazer and Glazer (1989) agree that consumer rights regulations enacted during
the 1960s and 1970s to protect consumers from unsafe products and business practices helped to drive the growth of whistle-blowing. They also point to scandals such
as Watergate that engendered widespread public disillusionment with government
and industry. As this feeling grew, there was more willingness to publicly identify
government and corporate corruption. Miceli and Near (1992) argue that the increases
in whistle-blowing reflect the way that employees who become more aware of their
responsibilities to their employers and the public are now more willing to blow the
whistle on behaviors that threaten the safety of other employees or the public.
Johnson also asserts that changes in the legal environment have promoted whistleblowing by introducing mandatory ethics training in federal agencies whereby
employees are instructed that they are required to disclose waste, fraud, and abuse
to appropriate authorities (2003, 6). She adds that laws promote whistle-blowing behavior by encouraging ethical actions and protecting employees from retaliation.
As Johnson notes, organizational support for whistle-blowing has increased in
recent decades. Organizations such as the Government Accountability Project (GAP)
Martinella McDonald Dryburgh
provide whistle-blowers with legal assistance through the Adjunct Attorney Program
(www.whistleblower.org/content/aap.cfm). Media outlets such as newspapers, television, and the Internet enable dissenters to tell their stories, rally support for their
causes, sustain public interest in their allegations, and publicize public hearings
into the issue (Johnson 2003). These changes work together not only to encourage
whistle-blowers, but also to help them through the process of making allegations
against a government agency.
Many recent developments have encouraged whistle-blowing. Perhaps most important are the changes in the legal system that promote whistle-blowing as a positive
behavior and the new laws that protect whistle-blowers. The growing public distrust
of government has also helped to make whistle-blowing more commonplace.
Whistle-Blowing and Public Service Motivation
A theory has emerged to explain why civil servants would act against their work
culture to expose unethical behavior. Its proponents theorize that some people are
imbued with a unique public-service ethic that attracts them to government service
and drives their subsequent job performance (Brewer and Selden 1998, 413). This
ethic may make them act in the public interest, even when doing so runs counter
to their self-interest, and may ultimately lead them to engage in whistle-blower
behavior (Brewer and Selden 1998, 413). Perry and Wise describe this driving
ethic, termed public service motivation (PSM), as an individuals predisposition
to respond to motives grounded primarily or uniquely in public institutions and
organizations (1990, 368).
The motives of such an individual can be classified as either rational, normbased, or affective. Rational motives comprise not only the altruistic needs of public
servants, but also their personal needs, such as the desire to help formulate policy,
individual commitment to a program due to personal identification, and advocating
for a special-interest group. Norm-based motives encompass a desire to serve the
public interest and advance social equity while preserving an individual level of
loyalty to the responsibilities of the position as well as a commitment to government. Finally, affective motives are a commitment to a program due to a belief in
its social importance, which may lead to a spirit of sacrificing for others (Perry and
Wise 1990). All of these motives can induce whistle-blowing behavior.
On the other hand, public service motivation can also create the type of negative behavior that whistle-blowers bring to light. Perry and Wise write: Individuals motivated by public service may carry their commitment beyond reasonable
boundaries. Extreme commitment could lead to fanatical behavior, suspension of
individual judgment . . . termed failures of socialization (1990, 370). Based on
subsequent research, Perry (1996) modified the list of components that constitute an
individuals PSM motives by identifying the following six constructs, all of which
can be used to measure PSM: attraction to public policy making, commitment to the
public interest, civic duty, social justice, self-sacrifice, and compassion (5). A year
later, Perry studied the possible antecedents to public service motivation: parental
socialization, religious socialization, professional identification, political ideology
and individual demographics (1997, 183). The various factors that strengthen or
weaken an employees level of public service motivation can be used either to encourage whistle-blowing behavior or to discourage undesirable behavior.
Personal and Policy Implications of Whistle-Blowing
Of these antecedents, professional identification is linked to a clear-cut occupational field; specialized technical knowledge acquired from a formal educational
program; ethical responsibility for the use of expertise, including making it available
for the common good; and a lifetime career (Perry 1997, 184185). According to
Perry, the professions of law, medicine, and the clergy established the norms of social
justice, caring, and a belief in the common good. During the Progressive movement,
these values were absorbed into public administration with the creation of public
service as a profession. This professionalism can be positive or negative, with the
potential drawback that civil servants can feel themselves to be outside the realm
of political control (Perry 1997). However, Perrys research finds that professional
identification has a positive association with self-sacrifice and a sense of civic duty.
He concludes that civil servants with professional training have a level of socialization to an ethical responsibility that should
positively influence their level of PSM.
Many recent developments have
Brewer and Selden state: Federal whistle
encouraged whistle-blowing. Perhaps
blowers act in ways that are consistent with
most important are the changes
the theory of PSM (1998, 413). Based on a
review of the literature on PSM and archival
in the legal system that promote
data from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection
whistle-blowing as a positive
Board, they formulated and tested hypotheses
behavior and the new laws that
on the motives for whistle-blowing. Their reprotect whistle-blowers.
search revealed that whistle-blowers are more
motivated by complaint success than their
non-whistle-blowing counterparts. In addition, whistle blowers are motivated to
report activities that have serious consequences for the public and that constitute a
serious threat to the public interest even if their actions will threaten their job security (Brewer and Selden 1998, 429). Overall, whistle-blowers are high performers,
have high levels of job satisfaction and commitment, and work in high-performing
work groups. Brewer and Selden hope that public administration scholars and public
service employees will use their research to make government function more ethically so that the need for whistle-blowing is eliminated.
Whistle-Blowing and Ethical Climates
The ethical climate in which employees work is predictive of whistle-blowing
behavior. Rothwell and Baldwin (2006) described two ethical climates that are
germane to the discussion in this article. They designated them as the rules climate
and the law-and-code climate.
Employees in a rules climate display strict obedience to the policies of the organization and use these policies to make ethical decisions and resolve problems.
In contrast, employees in a law-and-code climate look to government rules or
professional conventions to resolve dilemmas ethically. Public agencies generally
have strong rules and law-and-code climates because their activities are so often
constrained by outside sources, such as unions, federal law, executive orders, and
professional associations (Rothwell and Baldwin 2006).
In addition to describing the ethical climates that surround whistle-blowing, Rothwell and Baldwin have attempted to determine whether codes of silence are more
common in civilian or law enforcement entities by exploring the type of employee,
Martinella McDonald Dryburgh
whether civilian or law enforcement agent, more likely to participate in a code of
silence. They found that law enforcement agents, including guards at corrections
facilities, are less likely than civilians to adhere to codes of silence. This is because
of the way law enforcement personnel are hired and trained. Many law enforcement
agencies use extensive background checks as well as psychological assessments
and polygraph tests prior to making hiring decisions, and they require recruits to
participate in ethics classes as part of their training. Further, police agents may be
required to report wrongdoing, and failure to do so could result in disciplinary actions
and legal punishments. Civilians are less likely to report unethical conduct because
they may not be subject to background checks before hiring, may not be required to
participate in ethics training at any point during their career, and may not face severe
consequences for failing to report misconduct (Rothwell and Baldwin 2006).
In a survey of public employees in Georgia, Rothwell and Baldwin found that
even if an organizations ethical climate encourages reporting of misdeeds, an
employees sense of loyalty to co-workers could work against the ethical climate.
Whistle-blowing can put an employee in the difficult position of having to choose
between being loyal to fellow employees and reporting their improper behaviors.
Laws and codes that encourage whistle-blowing might be negated by competing
codes that encourage silence, such as fear of retaliation (Rothwell and Baldwin
2006, 234). Further research into ethical climates and whistle-blowing is needed to
determine how government organizations can create ethical climates that encourage
reporting of minor and major ethical violations and work against codes of silence.
Whistle-Blowers and Public Policy
As Moore observed in 1978, the average civil servant is expected to follow orders
from superiors without question and seldom participates in changing policy. Since
then, according to many scholars, the evolution of politics and government administration to include aspects of globalization, decentralization, and privatization has
made it necessary to reexamine the manner in which government officials face ethical
decisions. Yang and Holzer (2005) argue that administrators work in an environment
of constantly changing public policy and their decisions should be examined within
these competing forces.
There is, however, one constant that government employees must consider
whenever they face an ethical decision: constitutional competence. Rosenbloom
and Carroll (1990) define constitutional competence as an employees level of
knowledge about how the Constitution affects administrative practice. Federal
employees who lack this competence may unknowingly violate the constitutional
rights of others, thereby putting themselves and their agency at risk of being sued.
This is especially true in corrections institutions, because courts have strengthened
the rights of prisoners against cruel and unusual punishment by taking steps to ensure that anyone who uses the power of the government to deprive another person
of his constitutional rights is liable (Rosenbloom and Carroll 1990). A worker who
believes that following a program or policy in the workplace will result in denying
another persons constitutional rights has the option to disobey orders, take legal
action, or even become a whistle-blower.
Rosenbloom and Carroll (1990) highlight the case of Harley v. Schuykill County
(1979) as an example of the courts supporting the right of a federal employee to
Personal and Policy Implications of Whistle-Blowing
disobey an unconstitutional directive. John Harley, a prison guard, claimed he was
fired because he refused to follow what he believed was an unconstitutional order
from his superior that would have resulted in violating the c …
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