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the Foreign Service journal


July-August 2015


Read and Practice

the Wisdom

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

right choices.

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

million settlement

of a class-action suit

brought by victims

against the trailer

manufacturers. As

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

they did



his decisions.

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.