Fear of Vigilante Ethics The fifth and final objection to agency action sees these proposals as a modern version of that sword hanging over Damocles. The threat is double-edged. One edge cuts into productivity: more shackles on the manager are a menace to effective public service. We have faced and overcome this problem before. In the nineteenth-century American bureaucracy, “agencies organized to avoid evil became that much less able to do good”.
The other edge is at our neck: the potential for harassment and coercion in an abstract sphere about which people disagree. For this and other reasons, procedural protections are crucial to an agency’s ethics program. Proposals that bear on personnel generally, but especially on recruitment and promotion, provoke legitimate concern about Fourth Amendment rights and the court-protected right of privacy. The backlash against polygraphs, reference and credit checks, urinalyses, and blood tests invites nightmarish visions about the probable response to public agencies’ use of so-called integrity tests (honesty screening). A variety of protections for government employees has eroded in the past thirty years, including legal immunity.
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