Case Analysis III: Current Event/Policy Memorandum

Research a significant current event that presents an ethical issue.

  • Describe the significant current event that you identified in your research
  • Analyze the ethical dilemma and recommend how it should be addressed
  • Apply the sample memo handout provided in this week’s Learning Resources for structure

Helpful references:

Public Service Ethics: Individual and Institutional Responsibilities

Chapter 11, “Ethics and Elected Officials” (pp. 228-255)

Chapter 12, “Organizational Gaming and Performing Measurement” (pp. 256-278)

Bowman, J. S., & West, J. P. (2015).

Blind Spots

Chapter 6, “Placing False Hope in the ‘Ethical Organization’” (pp. 100-127)

Chapter 7, “Why We Fail to Fix Our Corrupted Institutions” (pp. 128-151)

Bazerman, M., & Tenbrunsel, A. (2011).

To Serve with Honor: Doing the Right Thing in Government

Chapter 8, “Why Do Good Leaders Do Bad Things?” (pp. 105-114)

Newell, T. (2015).

Dan Ariely: Our Buggy Moral Code

Note: The approximate length of this media piece is 16 minutes

TEDEd. (2008a).

Jonathan Haidt: Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives

Note: The approximate length of this media piece is 19 minutes

TEDEd. (2008b).

02 – To Defend a Killer

Note: The approximate length of this media piece is 58 minutes

David A. (2014a)


Prof. West


This written assignment intends to provide practical experience in policymaking from an ethical standpoint. It is due on or before __________ (midnight US Eastern time), and must be submitted via Blackboard.

This assignment requires use of the standard format for a policy memorandum. The format is designed to help high-level executives make a good decision about an issue under extreme information and time constraints. In this case, the course instructor will be playing the role of executives; you will provide the briefing in written form.

The policy memo type is the decision-making memorandum, which can be used for problem identification and agenda setting, policy formulation, or policy implementation decisions.


The first and perhaps most important rule is that the memorandum in its entirety cannot exceed 3 pages. You should use standard 1-inch margin settings (left, right, top, bottom). The font should be Arial 11. Use single-spacing within paragraphs, and a double space between paragraphs. The footer of the page should include page numbers. (This instruction document follows these formatting conventions.) Since this is not a formal research paper, only brief in-text references with source and date are required, such as “(Centers for Disease Control, 2013) or “(New York Times, 3 January 2014)” Use quotation marks if it is necessary to use a direct quote, but in general a lot of quoted excerpts aren’t appropriate for this brief format.


Since this is a class in Public Administration ethics, your topic should relate to an ethical issuerequiring government action. Check with the instructor if you are unsure about the suitability of a topic. You have only 3 pages here, so don’t pick too big a topic.

While the policy memorandum is typically focused on an executive decision, you can also discuss topics for legislative action, where the executive would take the lead in trying to set the agenda for legislators.


A decision-making memorandum has 5 standard sections, and your memo should as well. (Note that the 5th is merely a set of checkboxes.) The sample is on the next page.



FOR: West (maybe President West, Governor West, Mayor West, Director West)

FROM: [your name] (don’t forget to put this!)

DATE: March 15, 2016

SUBJECT: [your topic]

1. Action-Forcing Event

Specify the nature of the situation, issue, or problem requiring or suggesting action and the degree of flexibility associated with it (e.g., whether immediate action is needed). Be sure to address the inherent ethical issue.

2. Background/Analysis

Outline the current status and relevant history of the action-forcing event. Provide a succinct assessment of essential information about the key issues, principal actors, and primary constituencies (stakeholders) affected by the action-forcing event so that an informed, well-justified, and persuasive decision can be made.

The action-forcing event can sometimes be summarized in a sentence or two, but the background/analysis section can be anywhere from paragraphs to pages long. Ideally this section presents enough evidence that it is conceivable to build a consensus among key stakeholders on a particular action.

3. Policy Option(s)

Summarize options stating the advantages and disadvantages of each possible proposal. If there is only one recommended option, then this section is not necessary and the Recommendations section alone will suffice. Each option should spell out the pros and cons (unless that is provided in the Recommendation section), and should address the corresponding ethical ramifications.

4. Recommendation(s)

Indicate a single recommendation or list options. Identify and summarize the most important benefits and costs of each option, if this was not done in the prior section. Identify likely support, opposition and criticisms of each option from various stakeholders. Explain why your recommendation is the most ethical approach.

5. Decision

____ Approve ____ Approve as amended ____ Reject ____ Discuss further

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