Public Service Ethics and Professionalism Principles

Ethics in the public service address the duty of public service officials to demonstrate good moral conduct. According to Lewis and Gilman (2012), “public servant is a fiduciary or temporary steward of public power, resources, and trust” (“Values in public service”). Thus, public servants should acknowledge the general ethics principles and those stated in laws and the Constitution. The following paper will provide a summary of public service ethics and professionalism principles and explain the relevance of those principles to good government in the U.S.

Principles might be defined as values guiding behavior or actions. Public professionals’ principles stem from daily service delivery and depend on their judgments, ideas, and emotions, determining specific actions or decisions (Box, 2015). Public administration consisting of elected leaders and community members contributes to the establishment of values and principles based on the needs of society and its relation to the public sector. The sources of ethics and professionalism principles also include books, online resources, research materials, laws, and the Constitution (Lewis & Gilman, 2012). Constitution-based principles ensure the protection of fundamental human rights, such as freedom of speech or prohibition of unlawful search and seizure. The study by Van der Wal and Huberts (2008) revealed nine essential public-sector values: “accountability, dedication, effectiveness, expertise, honesty, incorruptibility, lawfulness, reliability, and transparency” (Box, 2015, “Studies of public service values”). Additionally, Molina and McKeown discovered that honesty was rated by the study participants as the most important principle (Box, 2015). Integrity, accountability, and dedication followed the principle along with reliability and expertise mentioned in the list.

Professionalism in public service is often listed in codes of ethics, researches on professional conduct, and specialized literature on public administration. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) developed the code of ethics containing 12 principles that might be enforced or used for guidance (Lewis & Gilman, 2012). The researchers Stevulak and Brown (2011) argue that professionalism has the most considerable impact on ethical bureaucracy, as it might build integrity and respect for the public interest (Box, 2015). Professionalism in the area of public service is connected to the principles of competence, objectivity, and efficiency. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that the primary mission of the public sector is to protect public interest using integrity and an unbiased approach (Lewis & Gilman, 2012). Overall, the professionalism principles help governments and public servants to support discretion and accountability.

Ethics and professionalism principles are essential for exercising democracy and ensuring good government in the U.S. In a democratic society, ethics help to facilitate the process of decision-making and balance the clashes in demands. Moreover, the ethics and professionalism principles might be used to control the adherence and commitment to good government by public sector officials. Public administrators should serve the public interest, so the principles of accountability and transparency regulate the actions of the U.S. government and guide the officials to efficient measures and fair decisions in policymaking. Additionally, ethical competence and consideration of the principles might help to detect and eliminate ineffective laws and policies in the U.S. and promote ethical, productive, and effective legislation (Box, 2015). Finally, employing respect and equity while working with citizens and peers builds public trust and might facilitate the resolution of disputes and conflicts. All in all, public service ethics and professionalism principles ensure the advancement of the public interest and provide a foundation for good government in the U.S.


Box, R. C. (2015). Public service values. Routledge.

Lewis, C. W., & Gilman, S. C. (2012). The ethics challenge in public service: A problem-solving guide (3rd ed.). Wiley.