Ring in 2017 By Gutting the Ethics Office: Here and There

Posted: 1:01 pm ET
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Last night, House Republicans voted quietly to gut their own independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). House Republicans adopted a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee. According to Politico, under the Goodlatte proposal, the OCE would be renamed the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” citing a summary of the House rules amendment obtained by POLITICO. It “places the office under the oversight of the Committee on Ethics.”  The provision would “provide protection against disclosures to the public or other government entities,” essentially sealing accusations against lawmakers. Currently those investigations are made public several months after the OCE refers the matter to the Ethics panel.  After an uproar, House Republican leaders have now reportedly pulled the Goodlatte amendment on OCE changes and the ethics office rules won’t change.

A related item —

Last month we asked what happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?  Retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray who was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics (‘PEC’) offered an answer. It looks like eliminating the PEC was also quietly done.

After we published the blogpost, one of our readers pointed us to a “Professionalism in the U.S. Government” talk with Dr. Don Snider posted on YouTube.  On May 29, 2014, AFSA welcomed Dr. Don Snider of the Strategic Studies Institute to AFSA headquarters to discuss “Professionalism in the U.S. Government”. Dr. Snider used his experiences and expertise as a widely respected scholar and speaker on issues of professionalism writ large, to pose the question of how systems of professionalism affect the U.S. government and whether the Foreign Service might be able to learn some lessons on this subject from the U.S. Army. Have a look.

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Whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?

Posted: 11:03 am PT
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We received the following note from retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray who was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics (or simply ‘PEC’). Ambassador Ray previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe and Cambodia. He is also a retired U.S. Army officer who was decorated twice for his actions in combat during the Vietnam War, and later served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs.  We understand that there was a brief mention in the Foreign Service Journal (Board Meeting Notes) to the effect that the PEC was not continued, but that its work products would be retained for future use.  We have not been able to locate those work products on the AFSA web site even on its “professionalism and ethics” page.

We are republishing Ambassador Ray’s letter in full. You are welcome to add your thoughts in the comment section.

In your Dec. 13, 2016 post, @StateDept Launches Inaugural Leadership Day – Who’s Missing? (Updated), you end with the following question, ‘Also, hey, whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?’

This is an excellent question, and one that I’m sure many of your readers would like an answer to, so if I may, I’d like to offer an answer.

Let me begin first with some background. The concept of an AFSA committee to deal with issues of professionalism and ethics began, I believe, in 2010, under the leadership of then AFSA president, Susan Johnson. The committee was officially formed in the Fall of 2012, and I, having just returned from my final overseas tour as ambassador to Zimbabwe, and retired from the Foreign Service, was asked to be the committee’s first chair.

First known as the Professionalism and Ethics Committee (PEC), it was subsequently named the Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, but we kept the PEC acronym because it was familiar to people. The stated purpose of the committee was to enhance the professional nature and status of the Foreign Service, officers and specialists, across all the foreign affairs agencies.

One of the first things we did was conduct a survey of attitudes about ethics and professionalism. With the assistance of the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE), we focused initially on the culture of the Foreign Service. What we discovered was interesting, and somewhat disturbing. While most Foreign Service personnel consider the work we do a ‘profession,’ our survey found that very few could actually articulate just what constitutes a profession. Our analysis of the survey results showed that the Foreign Service was fragmented into ‘cones and interest groups,’ lacking a core institutional culture or identity. While many respondents could identify values essential to an effective Foreign Service, there was no common acceptance or clear understanding of what the core values of the Foreign Service institution are. In addition, whenever discussions of the Foreign Service arose, too often, they centered mainly on the Department of State, ignoring the other foreign affairs agencies to which Foreign Service personnel are assigned.

Once we recognized this, in 2013, the committee began a comprehensive survey to determine what most Foreign Service personnel thought of as core institutional values (or what the institution’s core values should be). We also requested feedback from AFSA members on a memo on management and leadership issues that the IG sent to the DG, which resulted in over fifty comments and examples from the field of unprofessional and unethical behavior at posts abroad. The results of our survey and subsequent focus groups were posted on AFSA’s web site (http://afsa.org/), but I couldn’t find them during a recent search of the site. Unfortunately, the AFSANET message summarizing the survey and our other research was not sent out to members by the AFSA Board that took office in 2013.

We also began the task of developing a draft code of professional conduct for the Foreign Service. Our aim was not to replace the extensive compliance codes that already exist in the various agencies, but to create a sense of institutional identity for Foreign Service Personnel; to develop an aspirational code of behavior focused not on what ‘not’ to do, but what we ‘ought’ to aspire to be. This was an exciting, but daunting, task that came to an end in the summer of 2016 when the current AFSA Governing Board decided that the PEC had achieved its aims and was, therefore, abolished.

The draft code of conduct, however, was not the only initiative that was pushed aside. In addition to a values-based culture as a foundation to a professional Foreign Service, we also identified the need for career-long professional education (as opposed to technical training or trade-craft), and had begun working with FSI and other organizations in that regard. One of the products of that effort was a white paper, ‘A Professional Education for a Professional Foreign Service,’ which was approved by AFSA in 2014 and shared with the QDDR Office and FSI. Another PEC initiative was the Expert Speakers Forum, which brought experienced speakers on leadership, professionalism, ethics, government effectiveness, and diplomatic art and practice to the AFSA membership.

In the summer of 2016, the PEC was asked to nominate new members, and then in a parliamentary move that was never made clear, the AFSA Governing Board decided that the PEC had reached the end of its mandate, and the committee was abolished. The explanation for this decision was never clear to me, nor do I think it was ever made clear to the membership—in fact, I think that it’s only the absence of the PEC in the list of committees on AFSA’s web site that informs the membership that the committee no longer exists. As far as I can establish, AFSA did not consult its membership about this decision, something I feel, as a member, should be done considering the interest the membership showed in the PEC and its activities.

Since it’s unlikely that AFSA will poll members about this, it might be interesting to hear what your readers have to say.

 

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AFSA Event: Spotting and Solving Ethical Dilemmas at Work, March 10, 11:30 a.m.

Posted: 12:02 am EDT
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The AFSA Committee on Professionalism and Ethics (PEC) has put together a two hour inter-active workshop-presentation on “Spotting and Solving Ethical Dilemmas at Work” at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW, from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. on March 10 with Dr. Terry Newell.  It is a free workshop that is available to AFSA members but civil service colleagues are also encouraged to sign-up. Details from AFSA below:

AFSA welcomes back Dr. Terry Newell for a two hour inter-active workshop-presentation on “Spotting and Solving Ethical Dilemmas at Work” at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW, from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. on March 10. Sandwiches and beverages will be available to participants from 11:30 to 12. This is a unique opportunity to participate in an in-depth inter-active session on a timely issue – how to behave ethically when the rules are not enough. Please join us for this timely opportunity to learn how to think and act ethically in everyday work situations. Space is limited and RSVPs are required. Please click here to RSVP.

Why, despite hundreds of pages or ethics laws and annual ethics training, do we still have ethical problems in government? One answer is that we fail to spot ethical issues in everyday work situations because no laws seem to be broken. Another is that traditional approaches to ethics focus on following the rules, on doing “right” when the regulations tell you what is “wrong”. But lots of ethical issues are choices between two or more “rights” where there are no rules to guide us.

In this workshop we will focus on how to spot and resolve ethics issues in daily work situations using case studies, film clips and small group discussion to explore questions such as:

•What does ethics mean and how do you spot an ethics issue?

•What is the role of ‘value conflicts’ in ethical thinking?

•How can you avoid mental traps in addressing ethics challenges?

•How can you make a sound ethical decision and how can you put an ethical decision into practice, especially amidst opposition?  .

Dr. Newell spent nearly forty years in the federal government, including distinguished service in the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Education, and the Office of Personnel Management. Since leaving his last position as Dean of Faculty at the Federal Executive Institute, he has concentrated on writing and teaching about ethical leadership in government. His books include The Trusted Leader: Building the Relationships That Make Government Work; Statesmanship, Character and Leadership in America; and – most recently – To Serve with Honor: Doing the Right Thing in Government. This book is filled with case studies, checklists, and stories of exemplary public servants, offering a practical, readable road map for acting ethically.

Note that the event is from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. (not 2:20 p.m. as previously announced) on March 10. Please click here to RSVP. Alternatively, you may RSVP to events@afsa.org.

 

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