Administrative ethics

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Plato - forefather of state philosophy

Administrative ethics is a sub-area of applied ethics . It deals with critical reflection on "good" public administration. Administrative ethics are thus in a certain way prior to the application of the law and the actions of the public administration. In addition, administrative ethics aims to develop and implement correct, well-founded standards of behavior in public administrations .

The term “administrative ethics” has so far not been widespread in German-speaking countries. The reasons for this lie mainly in hard on legality (and less legitimacy oriented) administrative culture . In this respect, ethical-critical reflections are traditionally treated with restraint or with distrust.

The Anglo-American region, for example, forms a contrast to this, in which “Public Service Ethics” is an important topic that has been discussed for a long time. In this context, the focus is traditionally on moral issues rather than established law .

Ethics in Public Administration

In the German administrative science have Fritz Morstein Marx and Thomas Faust wrote the first comprehensive treatises on the subject of administrative ethics.

In older (jurisprudential) literature contributions, administrative ethics was only given a marginal role. Rather, there was a need for action with regard to an increase or perfecting of legal norms. As a result, the focus was on specifying criminal law and disciplinary law as well as controlling employees accordingly. Offenses relevant to administrative ethics in the German Criminal Code are, for example, bribery and corruption as well as granting and accepting benefits .

Aristotle - ethics as practical science

In contrast, ethical-critical reflections have long been viewed as a pure threat to the predictability and reliability of public administrations. The ideal of the German professional civil servant is steered by means of the Basic Law , Federal Civil Servants Act or Civil Servant Status Act rather in the direction of a tolerant, devoted vicarious agent of his employer . The obligation to remonstrate, sometimes cited as a counter-argument, can do little to change this assessment. Because at best it ekes out a shadowy existence in administrative practice - mainly because remonstrating employees often fear (informal) sanctions.

More recent (organizational psychological) contributions, however, argue in a more differentiated manner : It is insufficient to require the individual to adhere to “hard” legal regulations ( compliance ). Rather, “soft” social phenomena (integrity) also played an important role. Behavioral studies also show the need to develop or expand intrinsic motivation in order to sustainably anchor the integrity of public administrations.

In the course of the discussion of New Public Management , aspects of administrative ethics began to flourish in German-speaking countries. For example, the question of the extent to which the decentralization of responsibility (e.g. to public companies) can encourage bribery and corruptibility was analyzed. But more recent phenomena such as public sponsoring and fundraising are also reflected on from an ethical point of view.

At the moment, the (political) scientific discussion about governance and good governance can also be linked to questions of administrative ethics. In particular, it shows that questions of integrity are not the sole responsibility of the public administration. Rather, external actors (e.g. from the civil society sector ) apparently also have to contribute their part to an overall administrative ethical concept.

Last but not least, the previous ethics discourse also makes it clear that the general change in values ​​plays a central role. In administrative science, for example, the tension-laden relationship between

Ethics in Administrative Practice

In recent times, however, administrations in German-speaking countries have increasingly dealt with questions of ethics. For example, the first guidelines on ethics in public administrations have been developed in several Austrian federal states (e.g. in Vienna).

In general, the reasons for the increasing importance of administrative ethics can be seen in the following, sometimes overlapping problem areas:

Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by country, as of 2015
  • Cases of uncovered corruption and nepotism to an unprecedented extent (e.g. in procurement / building authorities and in the health sector)
  • Rapid administrative reforms , decentralization and privatization , enhanced discretion, conflicts of interest and patchy controls can bring about
  • Dubious appearing vacancies for (management) positions in administration, where decisions are made according to the party book (office patronage )
  • Ethically questionable use of physical or psychological violence (e.g. by the police and armed forces)
  • Increasing (active and passive) sponsorship of public administrations, in which the dangers of selfish influence cannot be dismissed out of hand
  • Growing influence of lobbyism on decisions of public administrations
  • Doubtful practices at higher education and research institutions that violate principles of good science (e.g. manipulation of statistical data)
  • Secondary employment of employees where the public interest can be adversely affected
  • Follow-up employment where knowledge / contacts from the administration are “taken away” - one aspect of the notorious revolving door effect
  • Unresolved (internal and external) challenges through diversity

The material and immaterial damage caused by administrative scandals is immense. Its extent defies any serious, well-founded estimate - because of the extremely high number of unreported cases. The progressive loss of trust in the administration is being discussed more and more .

It seems that the critical public is less and less willing to shrug their shoulders and accept administrative claps as mere “ gibberish ” or “ clinker ”: For some time now, civil society actors and non-governmental organizations (e.g. Transparency International , TI) have been putting up increasing pressure Exercise politics and administration to take on ethical problem areas in a sustainable manner. In this context, the TI published annually undergoes Corruption Perception Index (Corruption Perceptions Index, CPI) , a remarkable degree of public response.

But also international political actors (e.g. European Union and think tanks ) are increasingly influencing national decision-makers to intensify the considerations with regard to an explicit administrative ethic. International comparative studies have shown that administrative ethical concepts depend heavily on the legal and administrative tradition of the respective state: on the one hand , they are more part of the - largely invisible - organizational culture , or on the other hand, they are more anchored in explicit (legal) norms . The Habsburg effect describes abnormalities in the lived legal or administrative tradition. This is a scientifically statistically proven connection in Eastern Europe between the former Habsburg area and people living there today and their lower tendency to corruption, bribery or higher trust in administration, police and jurisdiction compared to people on the non-Habsburg side of the former Border.

Strategic integrity management

Problems of administrative ethics thus reveal a wealth of complex, far-reaching, often culturally determined phenomena. The realization that these can only be dealt with using a holistic approach is becoming more and more common: To only hope for the virtues of individual people regularly falls short. However, it would also be a mistake to concentrate solely on the institutional-ethical design of the framework.

Federal states with freedom of information laws

Specific questions in the context of a practice-oriented administrative ethics are for example:

A future challenge for administrations is - in addition to the explicit discussion of administrative ethics - in particular the testing and evaluation of practice-oriented integrity strategies. The international exchange of knowledge and experience (e.g. between institutions of the European Union) is becoming increasingly relevant.


  • Ernst-Heinrich Ahlf: Organizational ethics in the police: Consequences for leadership and responsibility. In: Heinrich Schielke (Ed.): Honorary gift for Leo Schuster on leaving the Federal Criminal Police Office. Munich / Neuwied 2003, ISBN 3-472-05383-6 , pp. 1-24.
  • Thomas Faust: Organizational Culture and Ethics: Perspectives for Public Administrations. Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-86504-032-2 .
  • Thomas Faust: Administrative Ethics in Time and Space. In: Verwaltungsrundschau No. 5/2012, pp. 149–152, ISSN  0342-5592 .
  • Thomas Faust: Compliance, Integrity and Orientation: An Administrative Ethics Compass. In: Verwaltung & Management, No. 4/2014, pp. 213–223.
  • Robert Gmeiner: Administrative ethics in Austria - a sketch. In: Georg Lienbacher, Theo Thanner, Matthias Tschirf, Katharina Weiss (eds.): Jürgen Weiss - A life for state and society. Festschrift on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Vienna / Graz 2007, ISBN 978-3-7083-0488-5 , pp. 199–215.
  • Robert Gmeiner: Ethics and morals as a means of fighting and preventing corruption. In: Ilan Fellmann, Friedrich Krug (Hrsg.): Vademecum of fighting corruption. Linz 2008, ISBN 978-3-902493-03-3 , p. 67 ff.
  • Albert Hofmeister (Ed.): Do we need a new ethic in administration? Bern 2000, ISBN 3-908128-40-4 .
  • Wolfgang H. Lorig: "Good governance" and "public service ethics": Office principle and official responsibility in the electronic age. In: From Politics and Contemporary History . Vol. 54 (2004), 18, ISSN  0479-611X , pp. 24-30.
  • Klaus Malkmus: Ethics Standards for Local Government: Ways to Resolve Conflicts Between Legality and Legitimacy. Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-842852-93-8 .
  • Patrick von Maravić, Christoph Reichard (eds.): Ethics, integrity and corruption - new challenges in the changing public sector? Potsdam 2005, ISBN 3-937786-57-0 .
  • Fritz Morstein Marx: Official Ethics and Administrative Ethics. An introductory sketch. in: Verwaltungsarchiv 54 (1963), p. 323 ff.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. The Habsburg Effect. How the lost empire still shapes the relationship between citizens and their state institutions today , cf. also Sascha O. Becker, Katrin Boeckh, Christa Hainz and Ludger Woessmann: The Empire Is Dead, Long Live the Empire! Long-Run Persistence of Trust and Corruption in the Bureaucracy . In: The Economic Journal . (Volume 126, Issue 590, pp. 40-74) February 2016.
  2. zfwu Journal for Business and Business Ethics: "Administrative Ethics in Practice" ( Memento of the original from April 2, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 217 kB) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /