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Ethics. “The Responsible Administrator” by Cooper


In part two, chapter six of his book, The Responsible Administrator, Cooper (2012) gives a guideline on how to maintain responsible conduct in public organizations. He identifies four major components of responsible conduct which are individual attributes, organizational structure, organizational culture, and societal expectations.

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Cooper (2012) gives two approaches to maintaining responsible conduct which is internal and external controls. He defines internal controls as those which involve the professional values and standards that a public servant has assimilated to through personal and professional socialization while external controls are those which are imposed on such a public servant from outside the individual, such as codes of ethics and legislation on ethics. Both of these approaches are viewed from the public organization’s management perspective (Cooper, 2012).

Internal controls

The internal controls are quite subjective as they depend on the individual’s ability to make ethical decisions, their virtues as a person, their mental attitude towards ethics, and their professional conduct (Cooper, 2012). These factors also affect an individual’s attributes influencing their choices on ethical matters. An example of an ethical situation whose outcome would rely on an individual’s internal controls is a public procurement officer with the authority to award tenders being approached by a potential contractor to discuss the award of a tender to the contractor, who by all other measures has met the minimum qualifications for the award, but the contractor proposes a consideration in form of a bribe. The official may award the tender and no one will know, but his decision will constitute an offense. His decision to accept the deal or not will depend on his internal ethical controls.

External controls

External controls on the other hand are objective as they are laid out in organizational policy documents, legislation by Congress, and codes of ethics. Cooper also points out that the public itself is vital in placing external controls, as it is the “owner” of the public organization (Cooper, 2012). These controls intend to put on check individuals in public service and to safeguard the assets and interests of the public. Due to their objectivity, they can be used to prevent and manage ethical situations where individual controls may have the shortfall of subjectivity. In the example above of the public administrator approached with a bribe, an organizational policy can be adopted where the tender is awarded through a separate board as opposed to vesting that power in an individual and expecting them to act ethically.


The two approaches cannot be looked at in isolation without looking at their relation to the components of responsible conduct. This is because all four components of responsible conduct seem to touch on areas involving the two approaches of maintaining responsible conduct. Individual attributes can be monitored by the use of an individual’s internal controls while the organizational structure and organizational culture can be monitored through external controls. Societal expectations affect both the individual and the organization; therefore both the internal and external controls should be aligned to meet them (Cooper, 2012).

The public administrator is thus faced with the question of which of these perspectives to apply more in his approach to ethical issues. Cooper (2012) suggests that the administrator should integrate the four components of responsible conduct to fully integrate and implement both the internal and the external controls of maintaining responsible conduct in a public organization.


Cooper, Terry. L. (2012). The Responsible Administrator, 6th Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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