the Foreign Service journal
Read and Practice
To Serve with Honor:
Doing the Right Thing in Government
Terry Newell, Loftlands Press, 2015,
$12.95, paperback, 256 pages.
Reviewed By Robert Dry
theRight Thing inGovern-
This book homes in on ethical issues
confronted every day by government
employees, whether in the Civil Service,
the armed forces or the Foreign Service.
Other books address ethics in govern-
ment; none, I’ll wager, is as timely or
practical as this one.
Terry Newell spent 40 years in the
Air Force, the Department of Education
and the Federal Executive Institute in
Charlottesville, Virginia. He also served
as FEI’s dean of faculty for the four-week,
interagency program, “Leadership for a
Democratic Society.” He is a master of
ethics in government.
This book is not about compliance
ethics, on which each year the depart-
ment requires us to watch a video replete
with laws and regulations. Rather, it
concerns aspirational, values-based con-
duct; constructive dissent, speaking up
and speaking truth to power; and ethical
leadership—the ingredients essential to
renewing honor in government.
Compliance ethics, Newell clarifies,
tell us what is clearly wrong. More dif-
ficult to discern is how to make the right
decision when faced with conflicting
The book is not designed solely for
those entering government or moving up
the ladder. The author also emphasizes
how managers and leaders can foster an
ethical climate for responsible govern-
ment to thrive.
Newell succeeds by highlighting
real-world examples. From the first page,
he introduces the reader to the conse-
quences of failed or faulty governmental
action. He describes how the Federal
Emergency Management Agency bought
thousands of trailers in 2005 for the dis-
placed in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
Before long, the agency received com-
plaints about noxious chemicals in the
trailers. To its credit the agency investi-
gated, finding formalde-
hyde in some reaching
levels 75 times the safety
limit. But then, what did
it do? Nothing.
In 2012 a federal
court affirmed a $42.6
of a class-action suit
brought by victims
against the trailer
Newell writes, while
FEMA likely didn’t
violate laws, its
“actions reflect a lack of both compe-
tence and character.” It is character more
than competence that Newell explores in
the remaining 200 pages of his book.
Another egregious ethical failure
resulted in the
Readers should take to heart Newell’s
account, the result of a perfect storm of
a lack of individual moral courage com-
bined with an organizational culture that
gave only lip service to ethics.
Not all of the case studies are nega-
tive. In fact, a number of positive exam-
ples of leadership and ethical conduct
are drawn from State Department and
Foreign Service experience.
Newell lauds the character of George
C. Marshall. Both as Army Chief of
Staff and as Secretary of State, he spoke
truth to power regardless of personal
consequences. When called to testify in
Congress, Marshall spoke plainly and
forthrightly. Spin was not part of his
vocabulary. He was one of those rare
leaders who was disap-
pointed in his staff when
In another case,
Newell praises the moral
courage displayed by U.S.
Vice Consul Hiram Bing-
ham in issuing visas and
passports to Jews in Mar-
seille as Vichy authorities
began rounding them
up in 1940. The State
Department didn’t want
to upset its relations with
the new French government at the time
and sent Bingham “out of the action,”
first to Portugal and then to Argentina.
There, at the end of the war, he reported
that the country was harboring Nazi war
criminals. When the department failed to
investigate, Bingham resigned in protest.
In 2002, AFSA and Secretary of State
The author emphasizes how managers and leaders can foster
an ethical climate for responsible government to thrive.