Competing Ethical Claims

Rival claims devour a public manager’s time, attention, and loyalties. Competing oblig- ations in modern life pull everyone in different directions, while physical mobility disrupts ties that, once upon a time, lasted a lifetime. Ask the city manager or field agent whose career requires periodic relocation. Ask a ranger for the National Park Service who gets transferred from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty. The Inter- net, fax machines, cellular phones, and other technological comforts let competing calls invade every arena, every moment. These demands fragment thinking and can even shatter an undisciplined manager who exercises no selectivity.

Discriminating discipline is imposed by the manager’s priorities; they specify what is important to attend to, and when. Choices among priorities and responsibilities are made with an eye to roles—the sources of operative ethical responsibilities—that de- fine one’s own behavior and that of others in different circumstances. The demand to play multiple roles causes many of the pressures associated with contemporary pub- lic service. By contrast, the acknowledged driver in business is the “bottom line.” A business either makes a profit or it doesn’t. The public sector’s multiple “bottom lines” are far harder to measure than profit. The reality is that “the end of the government- centered public service and the rise of a multisectored service to replace it” has made the public sector’s new reality even more complicated

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