In public service, the law prevails. From the Athenian pledge, “we will revere and obey the city’s laws”, to contemporary standards and professional codes, additional ethical questions arise only after the legality of the action is settled. For example, the code of the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) identifies legal compliance as an ethical responsibility; its members shall “uphold both the letter and the spirit of the constitution, legislation and regulations governing their actions and report violations of the law to the appropriate authorities.” (Consider also the price tag of personal and organizational liability.) Accepting the law’s priority is the first step in making routine decisions in public service. The obligation to make a legal decision is hardly enough justification; the scope is still too broad. A narrowly legalistic perspective may pervert rather than implement the law’s purpose. This is what is offensive about legal manipulations to circumvent the appro- priations process. The case, mentioned in the Introduction, of running up the postage meter to expend funds at the end of the fiscal year illustrates that maneuver. Ethical decision makers, sensitive to ethical concerns, aim at good decision making. Action should be both legal and ethical.
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