The focus on the principles of ethics and social justice is obligatory for any organization, especially for government organizations, whose mission is to address the public’s interests and to respond to the public’s needs. In this case, it is important to discuss the issues of ethics and social justice in relation to the activities of government organization, while concentrating on the idea that there is a thin line between the unethical behavior and violation of the law and regulations. The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a government organization that provides different types of postal services in the United States. In spite of the fact that the current agency was organized in 1971, the background of the organization is related to the development of the first postal service in the country based on the U.S. Constitution (Carbaugh & Tenerelli, 2011, p. 130). The USPS provides services to all citizens of the country at the set price and with references to the set quality standards.
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Thus, the ethical and legal behavior of the USPS employees is controlled with references to the U.S. Constitution, federal and state laws, and the Supplemental Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the United States Postal Service. These ethical norms are also provided in the Postal Service’s Employee Labor and Relations Manual (U.S. Postal Service Ethics, 2015). However, the ethical issues that face the organization are poor quality of performance, misuse of the organization’s property, compensation and bribery issues, failures to communicate unethical practices, and disclosure of the confidential information (Department of Defense, 2013, p. 15). Thus, the purpose of this project is to analyze the issues related to ethics and social justice in the USPS and to provide effective recommendations in order to address the identified problems.
Ethical Issues in Relation to Philosophical Theories
Facing ethical problems and issues of social justice in government organizations, public administrators need to choose what approach to follow while deciding on the solution to the observed problems. From this point, while discussing the ethical issues characteristic for the USPS, it is important to analyze and explain them with the focus on such two philosophical theories or frameworks as the Utilitarian ethics developed by Jeremy Bentham in the early part of the nineteenth century and the Deontological ethics developed by Immanuel Kant during the eighteenth century (Bailey & Porter, 2008, p. 24-25).
According to the principles of the Utilitarian ethics, the desire for pleasure and happiness is a main motivator for the person, and the values promoted by this philosophical theory are based on the idea that the most successful decision or solution is the decision as a result of which the largest group of the public can satisfy the need for happiness (Starling, 2010, p. 188-190). Furthermore, following Kant’s focus on the conduct based on the obligation to formal rules and the rightness of the action, it is possible to state that all persons need to follow the code of conduct strictly.
While discussing the ethical issues typical for the USPS in the context of the Utilitarian ethics, it is possible to state that public administrators should focus on promoting the principles of the high-quality performance in the Postal Service in order to avoid the customers’ dissatisfaction. Thus, the organization will be able to maximize the satisfaction of needs for more people all over the country. Furthermore, much attention should be paid to the failures to communicate unethical practices within the organization and to the fact of disclosing the customers’ confidential information.
The problem is in the fact that failures to communicate unethical practices can lead to the ineffective work of the whole organization where the cases of misconduct should be addressed in a timely and efficient manner (Starling, 2010, p. 188-190). Thus, to maximize positive outcomes for the whole organization, it is necessary to effectively address individual cases. In addition, the fact of disclosing the customers’ confidential information is also risky for the large group of the population, not only for one individual, because it is a problem of confidentiality and trust (Bishop, 2013, p. 636). In this case, the Utilitarian ethics provides the grounds to discuss the outcome of the unethical conduct of one employee for the whole organization or for the large group of the population.
In the context of Deontological ethics, all the discussed ethical issues observed in the Postal Service should be considered morally wrong. Thus, the poor quality of performance can be discussed as an act of lying to the customer (Starling, 2010, p. 190). Furthermore, the misuse of the organization’s property and disclosure of the confidential information are direct violations of the formal rules presented in the Supplemental Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees. Compensation and bribery issues should be discussed in the context of employees’ wrong decisions and actions that violate the legal norms. In addition, the issue of the categorical imperative is related to the situation when an employee fails to communicate the other employees’ unethical practices because he or she needs to focus on morally right actions and avoid lying. In this context, reporting the other employees’ unethical behaviors to the leaders, an employee accentuates his or her focus on acting ethically.
Ethical Challenges and Conflicts of Responsibility
The main ethical challenges observed in relation to the USPS can be discussed as the direct results of the conflicts of responsibility typical for the organization. It is possible to determine to main types of conflicts of responsibility that are characteristic for the U.S. Postal Service. The first type is the conflicts of authority, and the second type is the conflict of interests. The conflicts of authority are associated with differences in instructions and principles promoted in relation to different sources of authority. Thus, decisions regarding the administrative responsibility of the managers and officers in the U.S. Postal Service depending on the federal and state laws and regulations and on the principles presented in the standard code of conduct followed in the USPS as the government organization (U.S. Postal Service Ethics, 2015). Moreover, the decisions of the USPS employees depend on their focus on the leaders’ instructions and principles presented in the standard code of conduct. The result of the conflict of authority is inadequate behavior regarding the cases of misconduct.
Failures to communicate unethical practices in the USPS are directly associated with the conflict of authority. Thus, managers in different departments are inclined to provide instructions regarding the reports on unethical practices and behaviors that are in contrast to the instructions presented in the code of conduct. Knowing that unethical practices typical for employees should be communicated to the ethics officers or managers, the USPS employees often avoid reporting on unethical behavior because ethics officers ignore the necessity to conduct the required investigation (Svensson & Wood, 2011, p. 22).
The other problem is that investigations and auditing conducted by ethics officers can be ineffective to identify ethical problems in the organization. As a result, ethics officers ignore their professional duties and act against the principles presented in the code of conduct. If the authorities in the USPS avoid addressing the ethical problems and failures in communicating unethical practices and behaviors, they violate the important ethical principles of responsiveness and accountability (Starling, 2010, p. 161). The reason is that these leaders avoid responding to the problem and taking responsibility for the observed misconduct that can indicate the problems in the administration of the agency’s departments.
The conflict of interest is the next important cause of violating ethical principles in the U.S. Postal Service. Thus, the conflict of interests is observed when there is a conflict between the responsibilities and duties associated with the public role and personal interests. In this context, it is possible to discuss such ethical challenges as bribery, the misuse of the organization’s property, and disclosure of confidential information for the personal gains of the USPS employee. There are several cases observed in different departments of the U.S. Postal Service over the country that are associated with bribery and compensation for performing an official duty (Department of Defense, 2013, p. 24).
The problem is in the fact that the USPS employees can accept additional money for performing an official duty, or they can accept money for performing extra activities associated with their position in the USPS. In this situation, the USPS employees act according to their self-interest while violating the prohibition against bribery and conflicts of interest as well as other ethical norms (Bishop, 2013, p. 637). Furthermore, the discussed ethical problem can result in the legal case because of the absence of compliance with regulations.
The misuse of the organization’s property, including vehicles, for personal needs, is also strictly prohibited, but there are many reported cases when the USPS employees used the organization’s property for their personal gains or for the needs of their families. The problem is also in the fact that the leaders of the USPS departments in different states often use the financial resources of the organization for their personal needs. Thus, there are cases when the authorities not only misused the organization’s property but also used the government credit card for their personal purposes, and they also provided false reports and statements or were accompanied by the ethics officers (Department of Defense, 2013, p. 85). These violations of ethical and legal principles can be discussed as severe, and they result in the development of legal cases and termination of employment.
In this category, it is also relevant to discuss cases when the USPS employees choose to disclose confidential information about their customers in order to receive some revenues. The case of accepting money in exchange for disclosing confidential information can also be discussed in the context of the bribery issue (Ferrell, Fraedrich, & Ferrell, 2010, p. 118). Moreover, the ethical issue of the poor quality of performance is associated with such ethical principles as integrity, fairness, and honesty (Starling, 2010, p. 156). If the postal employee does not provide high-quality services, it is possible to speak about his or her violation of such a general ethical principle as integrity associated with respect for a customer.
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Strategies Used by the U.S. Postal Service to Maintain Responsible Conduct
The focus on the responsible and ethical conduct is important for the authorities and employees of the U.S. Postal Service. In order to maintain the responsible conduct in this government organization, the General Counsel developed several strategies that are rather effective to address the ethical problems and challenges observed in the organization. These strategies include the education of the employees regarding the ethical standards and regulations presented in the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, the Supplemental Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the United States Postal Service, and in the Postal Service’s Employee Labor and Relations Manual. The system of precautions is developed to inform all the employees on the ethical norms and laws followed in the organization (U.S. Postal Service Ethics, 2015). In addition, the organization focuses on maintaining the operations with references to the adopted high standards of ethical conduct. In this case, the system of prohibitions for employees works to maintain the responsible conduct in the USPS.
The focus of the organization on the ethically responsible behavior is realized with references to the developed codes of conduct for different types of responsibility in the agency. For instance, it is possible to determine the Senior Financial Managers’ Code of Ethics that is developed and adopted in the U.S. Postal Service in order to address the problem of bribery, the prohibited use of the organization’s financial resources, and the misuse of the organizational property (Senior Financial Managers’ Code of Ethics, 2010, p. 2). Furthermore, to support the development of the responsible conduct in the employees and to contribute to the support of the ethical principles in the organization, the leaders proposed the Training and Development Program (Training and development in USPS, 2014, p. 15). In this program, ethical principles are openly communicated and explained.
Recommendations for Addressing the Issues
In spite of the fact that the USPS follows the effective legal and ethical compliance programs and the implemented codes of conduct present not only the corporate values bust also the guidelines and rules, but it is also important to provide additional efficient recommendations for addressing the identified ethical issues. The reason is that it is necessary to promote the ethical reflexivity in the organization and provide tools and methods that are appropriate to address the problems. While focusing on the development of recommendations for the USPS, it is important to refer to the Deontological and Utilitarian approaches to respond to the observed ethical issues (Bailey & Porter, 2008, p. 24). As the main identified ethical issues include the problems with quality of performance, misuse of the organization’s property, bribery issues, failures to communicate unethical behaviors, and the disclosure of confidential information, it is more efficient to combine the approaches because the issues are associated with violating the rules and wrong behavior as well as with the negative outcomes for the public.
Referring to the Deontological approach, it is possible to develop recommendations for the USPS that also address the possible involvement of guerrilla government employees into the activities of the organization. In this context, guerrilla government employees are persons who are inclined to act against the policy of the organization while demonstrating the adherence to the policy publicly (O’Leary, 2010, p. 8). The first recommendation is related to the issue of the poor performance and disclosure of the confidential information. In order to avoid the poor performance of the USPS employees who can also act as guerrilla government employees, it is necessary to strengthen the policy regarding fines and bonuses followed in the organization. The employees should be informed regarding new fines associated with their improper performance (Bishop, 2013, p. 636). The revision of the rewards policy is effective in order to address the ethical issues that are directly associated with the quality of the employees’ performance because of the aspect of motivation.
The second recommendation is connected with the issues of misuse the organization’s property and such a financial issue as bribery. Irresponsible and guerrilla government employees are inclined to focus on their personal interests instead of protecting the interests of the organization or public. In this case, to address the issue, it is necessary to revise the approach to the principles of accountability and control in the USPS and to invest more in the strict compliance program (Starling, 2010, p. 194). To increase the integrity and to avoid issues of bribery, it is important and effective to strengthen requirements to the employees’ behavior and to state clearly the procedure of punishment according to the set standards. External experts should be invited to develop the effective auditing and investigation procedure (O’Leary, 2010, p. 10).
The issue of failure to communicate unethical behaviors in the government organization should be addressed in the USPS with the focus on strengthening the collective action and the revision of reporting and whistle-blowing policies. The reason is that the managers should understand the importance of addressing the unethical practices in a timely manner, and employees should understand that they have the obligation to behave ethically and report the unethical behaviors of the other employees (Starling, 2010, p. 195). In this context, the recommendations are based on the use of force in order to make the employees, including guerrilla government employees, act according to the set standards and norms. Furthermore, the recommendations address the need for the positive consequence according to the Utilitarian vision.
Factors That Affect the Implementation of the Recommendations
The ethical decision-making model includes the factors that can influence the implementation of the proposed recommendations for the improvement of the situation in the USPS. These factors are the intensity of an ethical issue, a range of individual factors, and a variety of organizational factors such as corporate culture and opportunity (Ferrell et al., 2010, p. 124). The factor of ethical issue intensity influences the implementation of the recommendation because managers and leaders plan improvements depending on the issue’s priority. In this case, the issues of bribery and misuse of the organization’s property can be discussed as more important by some managers in the USPS, when the other can focus more on the failures to communicate unethical behaviors. In contrast, the employee can discuss the issue of misusing the organization’s property as unimportant, and they can ignore the implemented strategies.
Individual factors are also important because employees are often inclined to protect their personal interests, and guerrilla government employees can choose to prevent the implementation of strict standards and regulations because of the focus on their own values and visions (O’Leary, 2010, p. 10). Although individual factors can be discussed as difficult barriers to overcome, more attention should be paid to organizational factors. The corporate culture matters while the specific ethical strategies are implemented because when managers choose to develop only written forms of ethical conducts without their application to practice, recommendations fail to be implemented effectively. In this case, the organization does not follow the values of accountability, integrity, and honesty. The aspect of opportunity can also influence the process of the recommendations’ implementation because it is associated with the employees’ perception of benefits from the implementation of new programs or strategies (McDevitt, Giapponi, & Tromley, 2007, p. 220). Thus, it is necessary to focus on internal rewards for employees and managers that are associated with following the revised rules.
Outcomes of the Recommendations’ Implementation
Having analyzed the factors that can influence the process of the recommendations’ implementation, it is necessary to concentrate on the expected outcomes as a result of the effective revision of the ethical approaches followed in the U.S. Postal Service. The main outcome of strengthening the policy regarding fines and bonuses followed in the organization is the support of the ethical behavior in the USPS (Svensson, & Wood, 2011, p. 22). Implementing the new policy, it is possible to expect the positive changes in the employees’ behavior regarding the performance and manipulation of the confidential information because of the focus on the factor of opportunity or absence of internal and external rewards.
The next important outcome is associated with the revision of the control and auditing policies and programs in the USPS to address the problems of bribery and misuse of property. If the strategy is implemented, the result is the decrease of the corruption level in the government organization that is often discussed as the federal ethical issue. The outcomes of the focus on strengthening the collective action and on revising the reporting and whistle-blowing policies are the increase in the honesty, fairness, transparency, and accountability levels in the organization (Starling, 2010, p. 192). Changes in these policies are necessary to accentuate the necessity of transparency and honesty in the government organization. The expected results are decreases in the conflicts of responsibility and increases in the quality of administration.
Ethical Issues and Social Justice
While discussing the identified ethical concerns and issues in the USPS, it is also necessary to focus on them in the context of such two social justice themes as human rights and equality. From the Utilitarian perspective, the principle of equality means the provision of the equal access and opportunities to all persons (Bagenstos, 2013, p. 226). From this point, such ethical issues typical for the USPS as the misuse of the organization’s property and bribery issues are associated with violating the principle of equality. On the one hand, some employees decide that they have the right to have the unequal access to more rewards than the other employees have. On the other hand, leaders can also decide that they have the right for the unequal distribution of goods, and they focus on the misuse of the organization’s property.
The issues of poor quality of performance and disclosure of confidential information by employees are referred to theme of human rights and to the Deontological approach. The concept of social justice is related to the impact of activities on the people (Swartz, 2012, p. 10). In this case, it is necessary to refer to the rights of customers and their dignity. If customers receive the low-quality services or their personal information is disclosed, the principle of dignity and their human rights are violated. From this perspective, the discussed ethical issues in the USPS are closely related to such themes of social justice as equality and human rights because the unethical behaviors of the USPS employees directly influence the public for which the postal services are provided.
The analysis of the ethical standards followed in the U.S. Postal Service and the explanation of the observed ethical challenges and issues resulted in the provision of certain recommendations that can be implemented in the government organization in order to improve the ethics policy. The factors identified with the focus on the ethical decision-making model that can contribute to the implementation of the recommendations or prevent from the integration of the ideas are also analyzed. From this point, it is possible to state that the USPS needs to change the approach to controlling the compliance with ethical standards and legal norms and focus more on restrictions that can be used to prevent the employees from the unethical behavior and misconduct. Furthermore, the authorities of the USPS should revise the existing ethical policies and rules in order to avoid violating the principles of social justice and create the ethical environment in the organization.
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