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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McDonnell v. United States: OGE Issues Advisory on Supreme Court Decision to Ethics Officials

Posted: 12:09 am ET
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Last month, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) issued a legal advisory related to the SCOTUS ruling on bribery charges against former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell.  To recap, the former governor, and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, were indicted by the Federal Government on “honest services fraud and Hobbs Act extortion charges related to their acceptance of $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams, while Governor McDonnell was in office. Williams was the chief executive officer of Star Scientific, a Virginia-based company that had developed Anatabloc, a nutritional supplement made from anatabine, a compound found in tobacco. Star Scientific hoped that Virginia’s public universities would perform research studies on anatabine, and Williams wanted Governor McDonnell’s assistance in obtaining those studies.”  According to court filings, to convict the McDonnells, the Government was required to show that Governor McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for the loans and gifts.  The case was argued in the Supreme Court in April 2016, and SCOTUS decided on the case in June 2016 (see SCOTUS case here in PDF).

Excerpt from the OGE memo:

On June 27, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in McDonnell v. United States, 579 U.S. ___, 195 L. Ed. 2d 639 (2016), which vacated the lower courts’ conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell on bribery charges. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is issuing this legal advisory to emphasize that the Supreme Court’s holding in McDonnell does not affect other applicable prohibitions on Federal employees’ solicitation or acceptance of gifts, including 5 U.S.C. § 7353 and 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a).

The advisory notes the following:

5 U.S.C. § 7353 prohibits an executive branch employee from soliciting and accepting gifts from any prohibited source, unless an exception promulgated by regulation applies. Likewise, the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a), prohibit an employee from soliciting or accepting any gift, directly or indirectly, if the gift is given because of the employee’s official position or the person offering the gift is a prohibited source. There is no requirement for the gift to be made in connection with any “official act” for these prohibitions to apply. These prohibitions apply to anything having monetary value unless the item is excluded from the definition of “gift” under 5 C.F.R § 2635.203(b) or qualifies for one of the narrowly tailored exceptions set forth in 5 C.F.R. § 2635.204.

OGE also says that “The Court’s opinion did not address the application of 5 U.S.C. § 7353, 5 C.F.R.§ 2635.202, or any other ethics law; rather, the Court opined solely on the construction of 18 U.S.C. § 201(a)(3). Consequently, the McDonnell opinion also does not affect OGE’s legal interpretation of the criminal conflict of interest statutes at 18 U.S.C. §§ 202-209 or OGE’s interpretation of the gift prohibitions at 5 U.S.C. § 7353 or 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a).”

Read the full advisory below:

Related items:

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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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Terry Newell on “Speaking Truth to Power: Moral Courage in Public Service”

Posted: 4:43 am EDT
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Where: AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW
When: Wednesday, May 20, 2015, from 11:30 to 1:15 p.m.
RSVP: Please click here to RSVP or email: events@afsa.org

Via afsa.org:

Dr. Terry Newell will address – through cases, exercises, and practical tips – not only how to speak truth to power, but how to keep your job when doing so, as well as what leaders need to do to foster the moral courage needed in their organizations.

Foreign and Civil Service members best serve when they voice their concerns about a policy or practice that fails to advance the mission and goals of their agency or the U.S. government. Leaders also need to encourage professional criticism or, as it is sometimes called, constructive dissent. AFSA has long supported constructive dissent through its awards program.

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 roadmap for acting ethically.

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AFSA Event: Why Ethics Matter in the Foreign Service — Thursday, October 9, 2pm

— Domani Spero
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We’re passing the info below for our friends at AFSA.  This event is sponsored by AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics ( PEC) currently chaired by FSO (ret) Robert Dry; he succeeded Ambassador Charles Ray, the first PEC chairman.

On October 9, AFSA presents “Why Ethics Matter in the Foreign Service” in which the concept of professional ethics writ large – and how they apply to the Foreign Service in particular – will be examined. Should the Foreign Service have a code of professional ethics? What would that look like? How would one benefit the Foreign Service profession?

Anthony J. Gray is President and Chief Executive Officer at the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE). Previously, he served as Global Compliance Officer at a major U.S. corporation where his innovative leadership significantly improved the global compliance culture within the organization. Gray is a Member of the Bar of three jurisdictions. AFSA and IGE collaborated on the 2013 Foreign Service values survey which can be found on the AFSA website.

This program takes place at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW, and begins at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 9. Please RSVP to events@afsa.org if you have not done so already. The event will be recorded and made available for later online viewing for those unable to attend.

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‘Ethics Answers’ Talks Hypothetical Ethical Scenarios — Cuz There Are No Real Life Examples?

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— Domani Spero

State Magazine now includes an ‘Ethics Answers’ box where hypothetical ethical scenarios Department employees might face are presented. The January issue includes the following (pdf):

Q: I was recently assigned to a new post. My new supervisor frequently has me do personal things for her, like typing her son’s college application or picking up her dry-cleaning. I feel I shouldn’t be asked to do these things. Am I right?

A: Yes. Ethics regulations prohibit a supervisor (or any Executive Branch employee) from encouraging, directing, coercing or requesting a subordinate to perform these types of personal services during work hours or personal time. By asking you to perform these tasks, your boss has taken advantage of her official position to gain personal services she would otherwise need to perform herself or pay someone else to do. Under ethics rules, this is a “misuse of position”—using official time, authority, title, information or resources for private gain, either one’s own or another’s. Other examples of misuse of position include using one’s official position to obtain a travel upgrade, asking the visa office to give priority to a friend’s visa application or using your official title to fundraise for your child’s school.

For help with real ethical questions, email ethicsattorneymailbox@state.gov.

Why can’t the ethics attorney use real cases without mentioning names and posts?

Let’s try this.

The ambassador’s OMS at an EUR post was routinely asked to take the dog and kids for walks while the boss worked after hours.

Or, during the embassy’s Christmas bazaar, the ambassador’s OMS and an official residence employee were tasked with selling bags and crafts owned by the ambassador’s wife.

Is that too hard?  You may play the ethics crossword puzzles here, have fun, learn the regs. Pardon me, and then what?  After you know that you’re right, what then?  An excellent question that we hope “Ethics Answers” would answer one day.

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