Anti-Corruption Policy and Whistle-Blowing Intentions: Quasi-Experimental Evidence From Meritocratic Civil Service Systems

Published date01 July 2023
AuthorDon S. Lee,Annemarie S. Walter,Soonae Park
Date01 July 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(6) 1194 –1217
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997231162528
Anti-Corruption Policy
and Whistle-Blowing
Intentions: Quasi-
Experimental Evidence
From Meritocratic Civil
Service Systems
Don S. Lee1, Annemarie S. Walter2, and
Soonae Park3
How does an anti-corruption policy shape bureaucrats’ intentions to
whistle-blow? Anti-corruption research suggests that civil servants with
certain characteristics are more or less likely to blow the whistle, due to a
discrepancy in perceptions of expected outcomes within the organizational
hierarchy. We test this logic by examining how civil servants’ gender, age,
and civil service rank shape changes in their whistle-blowing intentions,
leveraging the recent implementation of an anti-corruption policy in South
Korea. By analyzing original survey data on over 5,000 civil servants, matching
pre- and post-implementation groups, we find that male, older, and high-
ranking civil servants, respectively, are more willing to whistle-blow than
female, younger, and low-ranking civil servants when the anti-corruption
policy is implemented. The implication of this finding is that the greater
power and prestige granted to the former groups within the organizational
hierarchy may make them more willing to do so.
1Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea
2University of Nottingham, UK
3Seoul National University, South Korea
Corresponding Author:
Don S. Lee, Graduate School of Governance and Department of Public Administration,
Sungkyunkwan University, 50903 Hoam Hall, Jongno-gu 03063, South Korea.
1162528AAS0010.1177/00953997231162528Administration & SocietyLee et al.
Lee et al. 1195
anti-corruption policy, whistle-blowing intentions, meritocratic civil service,
Are individuals more willing to whistle-blow when an anti-corruption policy is
adopted? Research on whistle-blowing in government has examined how both
individual characteristics of government officials and situational characteristics
surrounding them are associated with such behavior (e.g., Culiberg & Mihelic,
2017; Keil et al., 2010; Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005; Rehg et al.,
2008; Sims & Keenan, 1998). The importance of studying the characteristics of
potential whistle-blowers in a particular context lies in the fact that government
officials who are keen to detect wrongdoing in their organization are often reluc-
tant to blow the whistle without legally protective mechanisms that provide
them with clear incentives of reward and punishment. As exemplified by some
anti-corruption laws, institutional measures which establish clear channels for
internal whistle-blowing, educate employees on whistle-blowing, and produce
transparency in how an organization deals with reports of misconduct can stimu-
late reporting of unethical behavior (Callier, 2017; Near & Miceli, 2008).
In this study, we examine how a policy intervention affects civil servants’
whistle-blowing behavior, employing a quasi-experimental approach previ-
ously used in a handful of whistle-blowing studies (Miceli et al., 1999). The
implementation of a recent anti-corruption policy in South Korea, the 2016
Improper Solicitation and Graft Act, provides us with an excellent opportu-
nity to do so. Through our original surveys with thousands of South Korean
civil servants conducted both before and after the policy intervention, our
research design attempts to provide a mechanism for understanding how civil
servants with different characteristics are motivated to engage in whistle-
blowing. In addition, to make pre- and post-implementation samples compa-
rable, we use matching methods and control for their individual differences
across time periods.
Theoretically, we argue that civil servants’ decision to whistle-blow is
affected by the defined scope of wrongdoing and the perceived costs and
benefits of reporting, which should be conditional on the interplay between
situational and individual characteristics (Culiberg & Mihelic, 2017; Dozier
& Miceli, 1985). In terms of situational characteristics, the environment
around whistle-blowing changes after a policy intervention, and the reform
policy sets the scope of what is considered wrongdoing and how reporting
misconduct is protected. Regarding individual characteristics, we examine
several demographic and civil service characteristics that are closely related
to the distribution of power and prestige among members within an

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