Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Politics, Government, Ethics, Guerrilla, Workplace, Actions, Office, Management

Pages: 2

Words: 550

Published: 2021/02/07

Application of ethical decision-making models in guerrilla government

Application of ethical decision-making models in guerrilla government


O’Leary (2014) defines guerrilla government as actions of career civil servants that contravene the wishes of their superiors. These wishes can either be contravened implicitly or explicitly. This violation is purveyed by individuals as a demonstration of dissent towards the actions of people and programs in organization. The motivation of guerrilla government is usually for strategic reasons. Such civil servants may opt to keep their intentions secret. They chose to make clandestine moves against the current of power. Guerrilla government comes into place because of the simmering tensions between career bureaucrats and political appointees (O’Leary, 2014). Ethical issues usually arise amid such tensions. This paper is seeks to review the ethical issues arising from the activities of guerrilla government. In particular, the paper reviews the ethical issues that arose from the activities of guerrilla government in the EPA’s Seattle regional office. It explores the competing obligations that the individuals faced as well as the impact of the guerrilla government on political appointees, organization and public policy. The paper concludes by exploring the motivating factors behind the activities of this guerrilla government and the lessons learned from the case study.
Guerrilla government in the EPA’s Seattle regional office occurred against the backdrop of President Ronald Reagan’s decision to introduce drastic changes in the federal government in 1980. Regan wanted to see many regulation eliminated. Consequently, he made political appointments that saw Anne Gorsuch become the administrator of the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Regan and Gorsuch later appointed John Spencer and Robie Russell who shared their dream.

Rober Spencer was appointed the head of the EPA Seattle 10 office in 1981. His areas of jurisdiction comprised Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Washington State. Soon after his appointment, Spencer attempted to buy official membership for the EPA in the chamber of commerce using tax payers’ money. This move was resisted by career officers at region 10 management division on the basis that the federal guidelines did not allow it. Spencer was accused of getting in bed with big business. There were accusations that he spent tax payers’ money on personal trips in a bid to finish personal business in his previous job in Alaska. This action violated the second principle of ethical conduct for federal employees which states, “Employees shall not hold financial interest that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty” (U.S. office of government, 2000). In addition, Spencer asked that a full-time driver be allocated to him and violated the General Services Administration guidelines in seeking modifications to the EPA.
Emerging tensions between John Spencer and the director of the Management Division resulted into a serious ethical issue. Spencer acted unethically when he transferred the director after the latter having informed him about the wrongness in using public funds for personal trips. Spencer’s refusal to finish up the director’s SES appointment was tantamount to violation of ethical principles (O’Leary, 2014). Spencer was ethically wrong to exclude the former director of the management division from senior management meetings.
Another manifestation of ethical failure on the part of Spencer was when he refused to enforce the law vigorously. The delay by the Western Processing Company of Kent to implement the EPA order was tantamount to a penalty of $5000. This is because the hazardous waste it ought to clean had the possibility of affecting the water supply at Kent. Thus, the delay by Spencer to take action against Western Processing Company was a violation of ethics. The approval of wastewater treatment exemptions by Spencer was not warranted by the law. Spencer’s many ethical cases did not end yet. His name featured in a report that alleged that he politically used superfund monies (O’Leary, 2014). The money was alleged to have been used to help reelect Republicans. This led to the resignation of Spencer followed by subsequent resignation of Anne Gorsuch.

Competing obligations

The competing obligations in this case include Spencer’s personal interests in relation to observing acceptable work ethic. He seemingly had a poor balancing act that saw most of his personal ambitions outweigh his office obligations. The director of the region 10 management division was also embroiled in a competing obligation. He failed to act on the report that had been filed to him by the anonymous junior staff regarding Spencer’s violation of the acceptable codes of ethics. In this case, the director was in fear of losing his job if he took action against Mr. Spencer. On the other hand, his failure to take action is perceived unethical since his office demands that he carries out his duties by observing work ethics and codes of conduct.
The exit of John Spencer and Anne Gorsuch opened the door for intense Guerrilla activities in the EPA. EPA staff thought that had been so easy on Spencer than they should have been. In this regard, they vowed not to protect political appointees and leave them face the consequences of their actions. The exit of Spencer saw the appointment of Ernesta Barnes (O’Leary, 2014). However, unlike Spencer, Barnes opened door to negotiations with EPA staff, much to their surprise. She appointed the fired director of management division to deputy regional administrator. This move illuminated the hopes and aspirations of career civil servants. She became tough on pollution and placed tough penalties for violation of environmental laws.

Emergence of guerrilla government in the post-Barnes leadership in the EPA

Robbie Russell took over EPA after Barnes stepped down. His entry reignited the activities of guerrilla government in EPA Region 10 office. Despite initial statements that echoed Ernesta Barnes, Russell’s honeymoon and false promises ended. He made most decisions in closed door meeting in which only heads of various divisions were present. Such meeting excluded his deputy that also served under Barnes. Against this backdrop, the deputy administrator conducted secret meetings with division heads prior to their meetings with Russell (O’Leary, 2014). The failure to involve EPA staff in decision making was a motivation towards the resurgence of guerilla activities. This implies that Russell had to deal a secret syndicate of directors that pledge their allegiance to his deputy.
The actions of guerrillas can affect an organization and public policy since most decisions made can be used to sabotage the leadership of an organization. This happens in cases where the political appointee is not willing to work with the career staff at the organization. One guerrilla tipped the media that Russell spent more days at his Idaho home than the number of days he “spends on official travel in Oregon, Alaska and Washington.”

Managing guerrilla government activities and lessons learnt

Leaders within EPA can manage the activities of guerrilla government by embracing guerrilla government. Any leadership that is premised on the ivory tower is bound to experience challenges of guerrilla (Balfour, 2007). Guerrillas want involvement. They seek consultation. They want their participation in the activities of the organization. They want their voice to be heard. Any leadership that takes cognizance of these critical demands by guerrillas suffers least impacts. This assertion is evident in the leadership of Ernesta Barnes. Thus, public administrators should learn ways of merging the ideals of both political appointees and career civil servants to defeat the threat of guerrilla governments.


Balfour, D. L. (2007). Book Review: Guerillas in Government? The Ethics of Dissent: Managing Guerilla Government. The American Review of Public Administration, 37(1), 114-116.
O'Leary, R. (2014). The ethics of dissent: Managing guerrilla government. Cq Press.
U.S. Office of Government Ethics. (2000). A brief wrap on government ethics. Retrieved from http://www.oge.gov/uploadedFiles/Education/Education_Resources_for_Ethics_Officials/Resources/bkbriefwrap_00.pdf

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WePapers. (2021, February, 07) Ethical Issues Essay Examples. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/ethical-issues-essay-examples/
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Ethical Issues Essay Examples. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/ethical-issues-essay-examples/. Published Feb 07, 2021. Accessed April 18, 2024.

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