We’re about to open Pandora’s “federal” box

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According to H.G. Frederickson, corruption or corruptive acts generally take place at the point of transaction which could occur on a small or large scale. Because government institutions have more regard to the public than private institutions do; they are more likely to uphold the values of justice, equality and equity than non-governmental institutions or private firms. As a public servant, ethics incorporate being selfless, without corruption and making the “right” decisions. Laws and regulations serve as a means of codifying the ethical responsibilities public and private officials have to act ethically as opposed to increasing efficiency. While the costs of preventative corruption could outweigh the costs of laws, regulations and ‘red tape’; a delicate balance is needed.

Privatization as a means of contracting-out could serve in increasing efficiency and reducing costs; however competition is generally low and there is little incentive for agencies to investigate or monitor contracts; thus potentially creating private vendor monopolies. Private entities may have different goals than their public partners, and growing corruption increases the political influence of contractors as contractors become political players as opposed to sellers of services. (Frederickson, 1999, P.12)

While the concept of limiting the government is attractive to many Americans; general support diminishes as soon as middle-class entitlements and constituency based programs are removed such as unemployment insurance, Medicaid and Social Security. The general perception is that bureaucratic positions have been downsized as a means of efficiency; however the perceived downsizing has been more of a shift to “hidden” bureaucracy which has no agency or organization in charge of monitoring it. The general suspicion is that the hidden bureaucracy has grown at the same rate that the civil service has been downsized. The actual increases in efficiency are exaggerated. (Frederickson, 1999, P.19)

An opaque “big government” is now replaced with an opaque “small government” used as a guise for transparent “big government” with no monitoring; creating an ethical climate in the public sector that makes it difficult for public goals to be a higher priority than the private, contracting sectors. This leads to many questions concerning reduced government accountability, increased reliance on contracting, disinvesting, government fairness (procedurally and in outcomes) as ethical issues that directly affect the American public’s well-being.

I noted the perfect illustration of this problem when I was watching “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Federal regulators recently approved the purchase by Comcast of a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric. This merger created a $30billion dollar media company with cable, broadcast, motion-picture and theme park components. Because this creates a monopoly (which is illegal) it needs approval from the FCC, or the Federal Communications Commission, who are generally in charge of ensuring that media companies do not become too powerful (among other things).The merger dramatically increased Comcast incentive and ability to raise prices, block competitive entry, force bundles on other cable systems and discriminate in carriage of competing programming. This raises the prices for consumers and occurred because of a 4 to one 5 member vote of the FCC regulatory board that was outspokenly supported by Meredith Baker; who complained that the merger review process was cumbersome and takes too long. Shortly after the purchase was approved she announces her resignation to become Comcast NBC Universal’s Senior Vice President of governmental affairs. Coincidence? Ethical? Definitely not.

Resources:

Frederickson, H. G. (1999). Ethics and the new managerialism. Public Administration and Management: An Interactive Journal 4(2), 299–324

Navran, F. (2003, December 31). No Virginia, There Is No Such Thing as Independence | Ethics Resource Center. Ethics Resource Center. Retrieved May 24, 2011, from http://www.ethics.org/resource/no-virginia-there-no-such-thing-independence

Yeager, S. J., Hildreth, W. B., Miller, G. J., & Rabin, J. (2007). The relative effects of a supervisory emphasis on ethical behavior versus political responsiveness. Public Integrity, 9(3), 265–283

Yes, Jon Stewart, That Was Fast. (n.d.). Free Press | Media reform through education, organizing and advocacy. Retrieved May 25, 2011, from http://www.freepress.net/node/89037

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