Public Administration Ethics and Donald Trump’s Firing of James Comey

By Dr. Jay Gonzalez, Professor and Chair of GGU’s Department of Public Administration

The recent firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump has livened up the usual quiet summer of the Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) program at Golden Gate University. This issue is front and center in discussions about Public Administration ethics and the politics-administration dichotomy. As is typical for our program, we have law enforcement agents in the summer class, including FBI agents as well as CIA professionals. It’s a good time to be in an EMPA class at Golden Gate University.

In the fall, when the EMPA program ramps up, students and professors will have plenty to discuss during the introductory course called Theory, Ethics, and Practice in Public Service. The firing raises the classic politics-administration issue of whether politics or partisanship should be allowed to seep into the work of neutral public service. In other words, should civil servants just follow the whims and wishes of elected politicians? The incident will also be used for a case study for this and other classes. Bringing current issues into the classroom reflects GGU’s approach of making real-world scenarios a part of the learning experience.

Bringing current issues into the classroom reflects GGU’s approach of making real-world scenarios a part of the learning experience

Loyalty to What?

In Washington, it is normal for the presidential victor to change heads of cabinet-level departments — from secretaries to undersecretaries — as well as leaders of bureaus or agencies like the FBI or CIA. So, there is no doubt that what President Trump did was well within his legal mandate. However, what is being questioned by many is the political interference in the administrative neutrality of career civil servants. Assisted by FBI career agents and analysts, Director Comey’s actions as a public servant do not favor one party or another. The FBI’s Russia investigation and its conclusions will be based on data and evidence, not politics. The loyalty of men and women in the FBI — including Comey during his tenure — is to the Constitution and the American people, not to the Presidency. This allegiance is also the biggest difference between public and business organizations.

The Saturday Night Massacre

In 1973, the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General both resigned after refusing to follow Nixon’s presidential directive to fire Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox – in an incident that became known as The Saturday Night Massacre. In the context of class discussion, the question is: What is the parallel between the Nixon-Trump political sagas? Both Nixon and Trump doubted the sworn public servants’ capacity to fulfill their administrative mandates in a non-partisan way. Thus, both presidents disregarded long-time career civil servants’ experience and tenure. Trump felt that an ounce of presidential loyalty is worth more than a pound of Russian investigative intelligence. “Director Comey, YOU ARE FIRED!”

Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox (center) was fired by Richard Nixon in 1973.

The Watergate affair unfolded in an era of television, newspaper, and radio. Now, news is 24/7. Besides the traditional sources, breaking news flows to you on your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. Even if you are not looking for news, you will get notifications on Twitter, Facebook, or email. This makes the scale of public knowledge and exposure of the Comey firing 100 times greater than the Saturday Night Massacre. Armed with smart phones, everyone is a reporter. With so much Washington drama coming through our newsfeeds, there’s never a dull moment in the EMPA program!

For more on the Nixon-Trump correlation, watch the Jay Gonzalez television interview that aired on The Filipino Channel (TFC), ABS-CBN News, and KTSF Channel 26 on May 11, 2017.

About Dr. Jay Gonzalez

jay-gonzalez-speakingDr. Jay Gonzalez is a Mayor George Christopher Professor of Government and Society. He has authored 13 books, including Corruption and American Cities and Privatization in Practice. Dr. Gonzalez has worked as a public servant with the governments of the Philippines, Singapore, and most recently the United States — as Commissioner of Immigrant Rights for the City and County of San Francisco. In 2005, he received a Special U.S. Congressional Recognition for his public and community service.

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Professor Jay Gonzalez Trains American Soldiers on Philippine Relations

Diplomacy in the Boxing Ring

Golden Gate University Professor Jay Gonzalez is Chair of the Department of Public Administration, who has provided consulting to governments, nonprofits, corporations, and the military over his 18-year career. He also describes himself as a product of the Philippine ROTC system established by the U.S Army.


Recently, Dr. Gonzalez gave a presentation called “Philippines: Country Briefing” to officers of the U.S. Army’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington, who will be deploying for Pacific Pathways, which are joint military exercises between the United States and Asia-Pacific allies.

Through the Naval Postgraduate School’s Leadership and Sustained Peace Program, he teaches U.S. armed forces personnel how to better relate with their Filipino military and civilian counterparts. His work helps operational and strategic effectiveness, reduces miscommunication, and fosters cross-cultural understanding.

A boxing lesson is also part of the training. Dr. Gonzalez says: “Boxing is big in the Philippines and I learned my boxing from there. Since my country brief is about the Philippines I usually provide them with a couple of boxing combinations: jab, straight, uppercut, and overhand right! It makes for better bonding between our troops and their Philippine counterparts.”

Other outside-the-ring topics he discussed were the ups-and-downs of U.S.-Philippines relations (and whether President Trump and Philippine President Duterte will be able to work together); Philippine security assessment including communist and Muslim insurgencies; terrorist extremist groups; and Philippine culture, history, religion, politics, geography.

GGU Connection

51-jukvhjolDr. Gonzalez says: “You cannot talk about Public administration without knowing about national defense, foreign relations, politics, and cross-cultural communication. GGU has an Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) program with a Law Enforcement and Security concentration. ‘Security’ means national security and helping our Asian-Pacific allies to go after terrorist networks before they get to the United States. In the EMPA, we have faculty members and students (a lot!) who are military veterans. Discussing military and veterans’ issues is an important part of our classroom experience.”

Dr. Gonzalez has written extensively on Philippine boxing and diplomacy, soft power diplomacy or public diplomacy, including his book From Pancho to Pacquiao: Philippine Boxing in and Out of the Ring.

GGU Corruption Expert Weighs in on Nationwide City Corruption and Police Body Cameras in San Francisco

In 2016, the San Francisco Police Commission announced plans to introduce  body cameras to the San Francisco Police Department. Speaking at Golden Gate University this month, Dr. Joaquin “Jay” Gonzalez – a worldwide authority on city corruption – said that emerging technologies like body cameras are needed to help monitor police and reduce tragic incidents and cover-ups.

Corruption BookThe new book he co-edited, Corruption and American Cities: Essays and Case Studies in Ethical Accountability, covers police issues in a number of articles including Body-Worn Cameras: Using the Wealth of Data Efficiently by Paul Figueroa, former Assistant Chief of Police in Oakland, California and Coffee and Doughnuts: Building Accountability by Nova Southeastern University Professor John J. Carroll.

Co-edited by GGU distinguished adjunct professor Roger L. Kemp, Corruption and American Cities offers 60 articles by practitioners, scholars, and journalists who investigate the reasons behind corruption and presents guidelines for better accountability. Beyond police issues, the articles cover corrupt practices that range from embezzlement, graft, bribery, kickbacks, extortion, nepotism and patronage to the misuse of funds, vehicles, equipment, supplies and other public resources.

The key to greater ethics and accountability in government is a mix of old and new school approaches, from FBI stings to a report card system.


Gonzalez said that increasing news reports on corrupt activities have reduced people’s trust of government. Citing Chapman University’s 2016 Survey of American Fears, he noted that Americans named “corrupt government officials” as their biggest fear out of 88 topics. That’s above terrorism, biological warfare, and economic collapse.

Gonzalez underscored that the key to greater ethics and accountability in government is a mix of old and new school approaches, from FBI stings to a report card system.

If you are interested in being a committed professional who will be part of the solution to municipal corruption, you can check out GGU’s Executive Master of Public Administration program where Gonzalez mentors the next generation of leaders.

More About the Authors

Joaquin Jay Gonzalez III, Ph.D., is Mayor George Christopher Professor of Government and Russell T. Sharpe Professor of Business at Golden Gate University. He has worked on government reform, integrity, and ethics training projects with the World Bank, the Institute on Governance (Canada), the Inter-American Development Bank, and the governments of the U.S., Philippines, Singapore, and China.

Roger L. Kemp, Ph.D., has been a city manager on both the East and West coasts for more than 25 years and holds International City/County Management Association credentials. He has taught at the University of California, Rutgers University, the University of New Haven, and the University of Connecticut. He is a distinguished adjunct professor in the Executive MPA Program at Golden Gate University.

Joaquin “Jay” Gonzalez: Public Administration Superstar

In the last 50 years, thousands have successfully completed our public administration program resulting in over 7,000 alumni.

Today, Joaquin “Jay” Gonzalez serves as a Public Administration Professor and Chair providing the Edward S. Ageno School of Business with the support needed to further develop Northern California’s oldest public administration program that now offers a Graduate Certificate in Public Administration Leadership and an Executive Master of Public Administration.

Professor Gonzalez holds a Ph.D. from the University of Utah, an MPA from the University of the Philippines-Diliman and a BA from De La Salle University. With over 20 years of experience, Dr.Gonzalez has earned many accomplishments throughout his career. He is a Mayor George Christopher Professor of Government and Society as well as a Russell T. Sharpe Professor of Business. He has authored numerous publications which include 15 books, 20 book chapters, and 30 journal articles that have been translated in Chinese, Korean, and Spanish. Two of his most recent works include Privatization in Practice: Reports on Trends, Cases and Debates in Public Service by Business and Nonprofits & Immigration and America’s Cities: A Handbook on Evolving Services.

Dr. Gonzalez speaking at an event

In addition to being a published author, Dr. Gonzalez lends his expertise as a guest speaker attending many events, globally and locally, and even speaking at U.S. military bases. He has also appeared as a commentator on various news outlets including The Filipino Channel and local outlets covering topics such as the upcoming U.S. presidential election and corruption in the U.S

This fall, Professor Gonzalez will instruct two courses which include EMPA 301: Research Methods and Analysis applying his real-word experience to the classroom.

Dr. Gonzalez

To learn more about our public administration superstar, visit his featured profile.