Is there a public service ethic?

I recently read a paper by Jane E. Fountain of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (Paradoxes of Public Sector Customer Service, Governance: An International Journal of Policy and Administration, Vol 14, No 1, January 2001, (pp. 55 – 73)), where she states that:

“Civil servants and the political institutions that they enliven play an important role in the development of the polity. Not only do they respond to expressed interests; at their best, they foster dialogue among the polity, educate citizens, and broaden deliberation to include the voices and needs of excluded, poorly represented, and future participants. Public servants lacking deep socialization in their administrative duty are incapable of fulfilling their trusteeship obligations. Private sector employees – agents hired to deliver privatized government services – have no socialization into or incentives to fulfill any obligations of trusteeship.”

Whilst this is primarily an argument against outsourcing of services, it is also a reminder to public servants of their role in developing the democratic ideal, particularly if they don’t wish to be outsourced and instead be recognised for the added-value they provide…

This is incredibly important in the delivery of services to ALL the public.


One Response to Is there a public service ethic?

  1. Thanks for pointing out Prof. Fountain’s article. She is absolutely right — there is, and must be, a public service ethic. The idea that public servants play an important role in “developing the democratic ideal,” as you write, is one of the animating forces behind the drive to build the U.S. Public Service Academy, which would be the civilian counterpart to the military service academies. You and your readers should check it out:


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