Essay: Discussion About Codes of Ethics

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USAF Ethics Policy

There are a number of advantages of having a written ethics policy. The first is that it provides guidance for a variety of different stakeholders. For the people internal to the organization, the ethics policy frames the ethical standards by which they are expected to operate. For the external stakeholders, a written ethics policy provides some guidance with respect to what they can expect from the organization. A written policy has this benefit because it is in writing, so not subject to question as to what it says, and because it is available for reference. The USAF has published its policy for the public, so that all stakeholders have access to it.

Another advantage of having a written ethics policy is that it provides guidance for people within the organization to make ethical decisions. A written ethics policy provides this basic framework, but the framework can then be used to interpret different ethical dilemmas. For most daily activities, there is seldom risk of violating basic ethical principles, but there are instances where seemingly normal activity might violate the code -- the code is important to clarify on things like that. Moreover, the code can be used as the basis to help people resolve ethical dilemmas that they might face in the course of their duties.

A third benefit of having a written code is that it offers some protection to whistleblowers. People know what is expected of them, and as such they can also recognize unethical behavior in others. The code gives people ammunition in that situation to have the issue addressed, because they know clearly that the behavior they witnesses is out of step with the prevailing code of ethics for the organization.

2. I believe that the USAF instituted its policy mainly to govern internal behavior. The target audience for most of the code is internal employees. The code outlines the principles by which people should conduct their duties, in particular on issues such as abuse of power, taking bribes, misuse of information and outside employment. . These are issues where ethical dilemmas can and do arise, so the USAF felt it best to clarify and codify where it stands on such issues for the benefit of internal stakeholders who may not be clear on some or all of these issues. The code provides a simple point of reference for people, and can be used to teach the ethical standards to new recruits.

It is also necessary to have a code of this type, in this day and age. There is substantial risk of unethical behavior, and other stakeholders such as Congress need to feel comfortable knowing that there is an ethics policy. Most organizations today have some sort of code of ethics, and it would be a bad look for the USAF not to have such a code. In that sense, they needed to have one that they could publish and show the world that they have a code of ethics to govern internal behavior in a wide variety of circumstances.

3. The USAF policy is not going to be effective on its own, with respect to ensuring ethical behavior in the workplace. The policy states explicitly that it is merely a general guideline. As such, it will not be significant enough to influence actions. There are no details in the policy, so when it comes to specific ethical dilemmas that somebody might face, there is not much in the way of reference points to help with that decision. The guideline offers a suggestion about who to turn to in order to resolve a dilemma, but that is all.

The terminology of this guideline is quite vague. For example, under "protecting federal property," it simply reads "Federal property is for official, authorized use only." Something like that provides zero context by which it could be understand -- what activities in this prohibiting? Something "Employees must satisfy in good faith their obligations as citizens," and then they mention paying taxes. Another one says "adhere to all laws." So there are a lot of things that aren't ethical dilemmas anyway, and the statements are incredibly vague, so much… [END OF PREVIEW]

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