Protecting the Public's Interests
"I consider ethics, as well as religion, as supplements to law in the government of man."
-Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States
Protecting the public’s interest is the responsibility of governments and their executive agencies. Decisions made concerning the allocation of public resources to the provision and delivery of public goods and services is guided by the need to protect the public’s interests. The interpretation of what represents the public’s interest may vary at any point in time among stakeholders. Consequently there is ongoing debate among lobbyists, who are often more concerned about the special interests of individuals, groups and firms than about the interests of the larger community and society as a whole.
Overall, those concerned with protecting the public’s interest focus on issues related to public safety and welfare, and what will be of long-term public benefit. They are interested in the development and implementation of public policy. According to Harold D. Lasswell (1990), essentially, public policy determines “who gets what, when, and how”. Policy making can involve lengthy disputes over what is best for the public at a particular juncture. Governments can rarely afford to attend to all demands from their constituents, hence the rivalry among constituents for attention to specific needs.
The debate about what is best for the public has traditionally been resolved by applying rational economic decision-making, in terms of achieving the most returns on the least investment. The rational for this approach is careful management of public resources. In recent decades other approaches to protecting the public interests have been developed. These include, for example, organization-based strategies, where the competence and capacity of the organization are taken in to consideration when determining governments’ potential for being effective.
Promoting ethical behavior among public officials is one of the key aspects of protecting the public’s interests.