One Hand Washes The Other

Dirty_hands

This week the House overwhelming approved an notable ethics reform package to ban insider trading on the hill and in the executive branch. (Washington Post)

However, ethics and conflict of interest in government decision-making is something that affects politicians and civil servants alike.

Two specific areas come to mind, including employment decisions and acquisitions awards, where there is probably no greater area of public trust.

Because personnel and contracting decisions affect livelihoods and pocketbooks, they are ripe for corruption and undue influence, favors, and other mitigating factors such as preference or tit for tat arrangements.

To safeguard these actions by public officials, the Federal government has set out rules that govern personnel practices and acquisitions.

On the personnel side, there is an exemplary set of rules commonly referred to as the ” Prohibited Personnel Practices” (Title 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)).

For example, they set out rules against such things as:

Discrimination against employees or applicants and even for off duty conduct

Preference in personnel decisions

Soliciting or considering recommendations not based on personal knowledge

Retaliation against whistleblowers or those filing appeals

Coercion of political activity

Similarly, there are laws in government that govern federal acquisitions such as the Federal Acquisitions Regulations.

Included in this are are specific rules that mandate ethics and integrity in procurements, and these for example bar activities such as:

Conflicts of interest in making acquisition decisions

Soliciting and accepting gifts

Seeking employment with a bidder

Disclosure of protected information

Of course, these guidelines are only as good as those following them. When these rules are bypassed with winks, excuses, or even outright deceit, the system and the ethical principles embodied in them are doomed by backroom politics.

As the same time, the specifics of the rules and regulations, and the interpretations of these to each situation is critical, and officials should regularly consult with their ethics officers and legal counsel to ensure that they are not only doing the right thing, but doing things right.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for each department and agency plays a vital role in ensuring that officials are managing in such as way as to avoid fraud, waste, and abuse, and the OIG can usually be contacted both by phone or email and is available to assist the public in investigations, inspections, and evaluations.

To ensure the integrity of government at the highest level, the rule-makers (Legislative Branch), the implementers (Executive Branch ), and the interpreters (Judicial Branch) are all involved in ensuring the ethical foundations of our government.

On the ground, day-to-day, senior executives, human resource and procurement officials, ethics and legal officers, internal affairs and the OIG play important roles in guiding the process and hopefully weeding out the “bad apples.”

However, when people involved are lax, derelict, or intentionally overlook corruption and endemic bad behavior as part of a one hand washes the other culture, everyone loses in terms of not only the smooth and efficient running government, but in the underlying principles of integrity for which it stands.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to “Brain Malfunction”)

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