Ethical And Social Obligations Of U.S. Government

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The Ethical and Social Obligations of the U.S. Government

The Ethical and Social Obligations of the U.S. Government

This study examines social and ethical obligations or responsibilities of U.S. government. The Friedrich-Finer debate defined contrasting views of social responsibility, with Finer advancing elected officials and Friedrich advancing the profession and public sentiment for establishing responsibility and accountability for non-elected officials. More recent scholars also include the courts, media, and more precise definitions of public sentiment in addition to those identified earlier by Friedrich and Finer. The study highlights that both Friedrich and Finer provide too narrow a definition of social and ethical responsibility. The accountability-responsibility relationship among elected officials, public administrators, and the public occurs in multiple and complex ways. The complexity of this relationship is marked by the need for administrators to be simultaneously empowered (by the definition of their responsibility, both objectively and subjectively) and constrained (through mechanisms of accountability, which then feed into definitions of responsibility). These contradictory, even paradoxical, concepts make it easy for scholars to divide by emphasizing one or the other (as did Friedrich and Finer) rather than to examine how they work together simultaneously to achieve responsiveness from administrative officials in a democratic polity.

The concepts and methods that define accountability and responsibility constitute fundamental issues in democratic theory because they determine how public policy and administration remain responsive to public preferences. This study explores social and ethical responsibilities or duties of U.S. government. In particular, it examines how contemporary U.S. officials perceive various sources of accountability and responsibility as they perform their work.

The ultimate purpose of methods that impose accountability and provide definition of responsibility is to achieve responsiveness. This means acting in accordance with the preferences and expectations of the person or entity to which one is accountable or responsible. Accountability and responsibility contribute to the goal of responsiveness in several ways. Accountability at its most basic means answerability for one's actions or behavior (Uhr 1993b, 2). Accountability is the obligation owed by all public officials to the public, the ultimate sovereign in a democracy, for explanation and justification of their use of public office and the delegated powers conferred on the government through constitutional processes. Accountability is the price citizens extract for conferring substantial administrative discretion and policy responsibility on both elected and appointed government personnel (Uhr 1992; Uhr 1993a). An accountability plan refers to an arrangement of obligations owed by one set of officials to another and ultimately to the public (Uhr 1992 and 1993a). This study will focus on unelected officials because they inevitably exercise much influence in democratic governments.

Social responsibility is often used either interchangeably or as an undistinguished entity during discussions of relationships among the people and elected and appointed officials in democratic governments. It is highly useful, however, to distinguish between the two and then to indicate how the two concepts are related. Responsibility refers to the charter of delegated powers that are entrusted to the government, to the grants of power conditionally ...
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