Need for Well-Designed Programs

With standards of conduct at every level of government in the United States, there are wide variations on what codes state, how they are implemented, how they are communicated, and how they are enforced. From an administrative point of view, the effectiveness of the code is directly related to the institutions that are responsible for it. Many codes in the United States serve little more purpose than as wallpaper; others are dynamic, living frameworks essential to the mission of the agency. Since the first edition of this book, the number and complexity of these systems has grown exponentially.

It is important to recognize that a good ethics system is not a substitute for a good ethics code. The latter should be clear and should express the fundamental values of public service. It should provide more than “don’ts” by providing a clear vision of the value and purpose of public service.

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It is also important to admit that a good code is no substitute for a good system. When ethics programs are implemented poorly, they may do more damage than good. Public employees may see the rules and principles as trivial and irrelevant. Well-designed and well-managed programs provide an ethical foundation that keeps public servants out of trouble and reinforces citizens’ faith in their governmental institutions.