April 09, 2006
The Purloined Letter

While doing a general web search on Google, I ran across a document on the State Department website that seems to have “disappeared”, at least from the State Department Website.

Fortunately, Google’s cache made it available to me.

I have cut and pasted the whole thing below. Are there any Sherlock Holmes sleuths out there who can explain why this document disappeared from the State Department website? I suggest that it speaks to issues that are critically important right now. I saved the google cache of the document to my hard drive. I suggest others do the same. Perhaps there is a rational reason why this document is no longer at the website, but current events suggest to me that perhaps there are reasons other than a rational one.

Maintaining Government Integrity: The Perspective of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics

Amy Comstock, Director, U.S. Office of Government Ethics
Remarks to the Global Forum II Law Enforcement Workshop
The Hague, Netherlands
May 29, 2001

In the American experience, accountability of public officials is deeply ingrained within the Constitutional framework of the country. The political and civic culture of the United States is based on the notion that public officials should always perform their duties in the public interest. For example, the Constitution begins with the words “We the People.” These words signify that all Government authority, whether exercised by elected or appointed officials, is ultimately derived from, and accountable to, the American people. Given this conception of public service, misconduct on the part of public officials presents one of the greatest threats to citizen confidence in the Government.

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This truth is evident in the events and ramifications surrounding a variety of political scandals throughout U.S. history that at the time they occurred damaged public confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government. Many of these events have resulted in new legislation to deal with the perennial challenge of controlling misconduct and maintaining the public's trust. Certainly this is an appropriate response. If we are to create a democratic culture, if we are to avoid the cynical conclusion that public officials merely use their public offices for their own profit and advantage, if we are to ask people to have faith in Government and to believe that all will be treated fairly, we must have institutions and systems that ensure that public officials are held accountable and that Government operations are open to public scrutiny.

When we look at the executive branch of the U.S. Federal Government today, we find a highly developed ethics infrastructure. This infrastructure includes a variety of specialized agencies that carry out preventive, investigative, prosecutorial and oversight functions. These agencies implement a comprehensive framework of laws and administrative rules that are intended to preserve the integrity and impartiality of Government operations and decision making, and maintain public confidence in democratic governance. Much of the infrastructure that supports the current ethics program was created in the wake of the Watergate crisis of the 1970s. The Watergate crises vividly illustrated the dangers of when those in power become too self-absorbed and far removed from the people they are meant to serve. Perhaps more than any recent event, the perceived abuses of the Nixon administration threatened to put a wall of distrust and fear between the U.S. Government and its citizens. This threat spurred the Government to launch a series of ongoing initiatives to promote ethics and financial integrity in Government programs and operations and prevent the sort of abuse exposed during Watergate from occurring again.

As part of this reform effort, Congress also passed the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 which, among other things, established the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE). OGE is an independent agency responsible for exercising leadership in the executive branch to prevent conflicts of interest on the part of public officials and to resolve those conflicts of interest that do occur. In partnership with other executive branch agencies and departments, OGE's mission is to foster high ethical standards within the public service and to strengthen the public's confidence that the Government's business is conducted with impartiality and integrity.

While OGE plays a central role in the overall ethics program of the Federal Government, it is important to distinguish its role of preventing conflicts of interest in contrast to the responsibilities of the individual ethics offices within every executive branch agency and department. OGE is a policy-making body responsible for issuing and interpreting the rules which govern the standards of conduct and conflict of interest policies. In this capacity, OGE establishes the ethics program requirements which agency ethics offices are required to fulfill. In order to implement these requirements, agency ethics offices are responsible for carrying out the daily administration of the ethics program within each of the 125 agencies and departments that comprise the executive branch. Through cooperation with one another, OGE and agency ethics offices strive to protect the integrity of the Government and the Federal workforce by administering systems designed to identify and resolve conflicts, and to provide counseling and advice to those who educate public officials about the rules that govern their conduct.

Each arm of the integrity infrastructure — prevention, investigation and prosecution — in the Federal Government has its own contribution to make. Effective enforcement is absolutely necessary to maintain the credibility of ethics laws and regulations. However, in one sense a prosecution for public corruption is an admission of systemic failure. Large numbers of arrests and prosecutions do nothing to reinforce the public’s belief in the fairness and legitimacy of Government institutions. While enforcement is vital, it is largely reactive. Preventive measures, on the other hand, are proactive. Each has an important role with the overall integrity infrastructure, and when performed effectively they can even have the added benefit of reinforcing one another. Credible law enforcement actions have the potential to encourage further compliance to the policies and systems that have been established to prevent misconduct. Likewise, preventive measures raise awareness among public officials of the rules governing their conduct and help them avoid unintentional wrongdoing that might result in enforcement actions against them. The ethics program involves a series of preventive measures that are designed to help public officials avoid conflicts of interest that might jeopardize their own integrity and the integrity of Government as well. Preventing misconduct avoids the corrosive impact corruption has on public confidence and the cynicism and disillusionment which it inevitably brings. Preventive efforts allow governments to take proactive approaches to addressing conduct that has traditionally been punished only after the fact through law enforcement efforts. In this respect, preventive measures can form a supporting pillar of a holistic approach to controlling official misconduct that eases the burden of a strict reliance on law enforcement while also enhancing ongoing enforcement efforts.

There is an ongoing debate about the state of public confidence in the Federal Government and its institutions. Some public opinion polls reported in the media suggest that public confidence in the Federal Government has declined, while others indicate that even though the public trusts career civil servants, popular opinion of the U.S. Government is most often influenced by the conduct of elected officials and senior political appointees. Despite differing notions of where the public has targeted its discontent, there is more agreement as to its cause. For example, when referring to the Federal Government, most Americans do not distinguish between the executive and legislative branches, or within the executive branch between the political and career civil servants. Since most publicized &dquo;scandals” concern political appointees or Members of Congress, it is easy to see why the entire Government is often broad-brushed as corrupt. The criticism that is perhaps most often expressed with respect to the civil service is that it is too large, too powerful and should be more limited. This type of criticism is probably more prevalent than widespread concerns that the ethical standards of the average Federal employee have declined. In fact, annual summaries of ethical violations at the Federal level suggest that there are a relatively small number of such cases.

Nevertheless, certain highly publicized cases involving senior appointed or elected officials can have a severe effect on public confidence in Government. In the United States there is continual and intense scrutiny of Government officials and programs not only by the media but also by various public interest groups. Frequently, politicians and interest groups use this scrutiny as a forum for undermining and attacking a political opponent. Allegations of ethical violations, whether true or false, seriously damage personal reputations and erode public opinion. Related to this is the fact that criticism of the bureaucracy in Washington has been a feature of electoral politics for several decades. The cumulative effect of this rhetoric has been to generate an increasing degree of cynicism about Government and public servants. OGE exists in part to combat this cynicism and to foster a more positive image of the Government in the eyes of the public. However, OGE does not act alone in this effort. As a small agency with oversight authority over roughly 3.5 million public servants, including the military, OGE relies on the individual ethics offices within each agency and department of the executive branch to give life to the ethics program. Agency heads have ultimate responsibility for the quality of their agency's ethics program. Agency heads are required to appoint a Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) to lead the ethics program.

It is vital that each DAEO has the full support of the agency leadership in order to run a successful program. The agency head has ultimate responsibility for creating the political commitment within their agency to maintain a strong ethics program. Agency leadership must sustain this political commitment by working closely with the DAEO and their staff when ethics issues arise, and by offering the DAEO a high level of access into agency processes. The decision by senior leadership to lend political will to the ethics program is the predicate for how agency employees will perceive and comply with program requirements. Employees will have less incentive to consider ethical conduct a priority if agency leadership fails to explicitly establish the connection between the agency's mission and the high ethical standards needed to achieve that mission. Therefore it is critical that DAEOs are appointed at a high level in order to provide the DAEO with necessary access to agency leadership and to communicate the importance of the ethics program throughout the agency. Moreover, the value of such a visible demonstration of political commitment in support of ethics programs is echoed in research on the role of ethics offices in private corporations and the success of their programs.

DAEOs and their staff are responsible for the daily administration of the ethics program. Under the supervisory attention of their DAEO, agency ethics officials interact with the employees within their agencies on a regular basis and are the most visible representatives of the ethics program. In this role, they provide ethics counseling and training to every public official, from the most junior level employee to the Cabinet secretary level. While OGE's leadership and policy-making authority is essential to managing this highly decentralized network of agency ethics offices, the success of the ethics program depends on the leadership that DAEOs exercise over the ethics program in their respective agencies.

Having a DAEO and an adequately staffed ethics office in every agency is critical because the DAEO is most likely to know the issues particular to their agency and how best to address ethics matters as they relate to agency initiatives with senior officials. For this reason, no matter how detailed a policy OGE issues, it is the DAEO who "breathes life" into the ethics program on a daily basis. Agency DAEOs are the primary intermediaries between the policies OGE issues and public officials. DAEOs accomplish this role by: coordinating policy implementation with OGE; reviewing financial disclosure reports; conducting ethics education and training; providing advice and counsel to employees on ethics matters; and monitoring administrative actions and sanctions related to ethics policies. In order to fully understand the interaction between OGE and agency ethics offices, it is useful to examine the broad scope of OGE's programmatic responsibilities. For example:

* OGE issues executive branch-wide regulations dealing with standards of conduct, financial disclosure, conflict of interest waivers, post employment restrictions, and ethics training;
* OGE provides guidance and interpretation to agencies, including providing informal advisory opinions and publishing annually versions of selected opinions (without personal identifying information);
* OGE oversees systems of both the public and confidential financial disclosure systems and plays a key role in reviewing the financial disclosure reports of Presidential nominees in the confirmation process;
* OGE provides leadership in ethics training to executive branch agencies; and
* OGE regularly reviews agency ethics programs to ensure that they maintain effectiveness.

As this list indicates, the relationship between OGE and agency ethics offices determines the successful implementation of the ethics program. Each side has to work with the other to ensure the program is accomplishing its objectives and is operating in the most effective manner possible. However, the final measure of the ethics program is whether it succeeds in strengthening the public's confidence in Government institutions and processes while at the same time giving appropriate and practical guidelines to employees. This is the ultimate challenge that OGE and agency ethics offices face.

The ability of the ethics program to foster public confidence centers on the impact of the code of conduct and the financial disclosure system at both the policy level and the implementation level within the agencies. The code and financial disclosure are intimately related. These program elements reinforce one another to promote the high level of transparency the public has a right to expect from the Government, and which public officials should expect of themselves. In conjunction with the written code to which employees must adhere, financial disclosure has the potential to engage the public in a proactive way that gives them insight, and ultimately a voice in their own Government. Each element plays a critical role in helping to communicate OGE's commitment to strengthening the public's trust in Government.

The current code of conduct, in effect since 1993, provides a uniform set of standards applying to all executive branch officials. The code communicates the values and standards that condition Government service to the public at large. These standards are based on important general principles, including the expectation that public officials should not use their public offices for their own personal gain; that they should avoid conflicts of interest; and that they should act impartially. The primary goal is not simply to achieve mere compliance with specific rules. Rather the goal is for public officials to have a clear understanding and a deep commitment to these principles and to abide by the rules as they fulfill the responsibilities of public office.

One of the central principles within the code of conduct is the notion that Government officials must be impartial in fulfilling their official duties and cannot allow their professional judgment to be influenced by their private interests. This principle is crucial to maintaining public confidence in Government. It is part of OGE's mission to provide information through financial disclosure in order to assure the public that Government officials meet the expectations embodied in the code and remain free of conflicts that would affect their impartiality. In many ways, this is the most important function of the public financial disclosure. It is specifically designed to translate the code into a system that opens a window into Government processes and creates a measure of accountability that might otherwise not exist.

Under the law, all senior officials, from the President and the Vice President, to political appointees and senior agency heads and managers, to general officers in the military, must publicly declare their assets, sources of income, and outside activities. Approximately 20,000 officials in the executive branch complete public disclosure reports every year. Officials covered by the statute must report their financial interests, as well as the interests of their spouse and dependent children. These interests include: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, pension interests, income-producing real estate, earned and other non-investment income, and honoraria. Officials must further disclose gifts, including food, lodging, and entertainment from non-Government sources. Finally, liabilities must be reported, as well as outside positions and future agreements or arrangements for employment.

Ethics officials are expected to thoroughly review the contents of each financial disclosure report before making them public. Through their review of a report, ethics officials are then able to identify potential conflicts before they occur and work out appropriate remedies. Once the reports are made public they are freely available to anyone upon request. The very openness of this system is ensured by the ease of access to the reports. OGE regularly receives requests for disclosure reports from the media, non-Government organizations, and other interested entities. The high frequency of these requests is a healthy sign of the interest that citizens take in probing the conduct and integrity of public officials.

One example of the public's interest in these forms is provided by the relatively recent experience of the Clinton administration. Before leaving office, and in keeping with financial disclosure requirements, President Clinton completed a termination financial disclosure report. When the report was made public, the media closely scrutinized its contents, and among other things drew particular attention to the fact the Clintons had accepted nearly $190,000 in gifts from various friends and political supporters. Using information provided on President Clinton's financial disclosure form, media reports created significant concern among the public and the political establishment over the value of the gifts and the circumstances under which they had been offered. The extent and value of the gifts they had accepted raised many questions of propriety. More significantly, the media raised questions about the connection between certain individuals who had offered significant gifts and controversial decisions made by the Clinton administration on the eve of its departure from office that favored those individuals. Under the pressure of public outcry over these issues, President Clinton ultimately returned nearly half of the gifts he had received.

This anecdote illustrates a very visible instance in which public financial disclosure provided the public with the information it needed to influence the political process in a fundamental way. Frequently observers focus on the role of OGE and agency ethics officials in eliminating conflicts of interest through disclosure. However, as the case of the gifts given to President Clinton demonstrates, solely focusing on this role of disclosure obscures its dual purpose to both identify potential conflicts that must be avoided, and also make transparent all other financial interests so they can be held under public scrutiny.

In the United States we have come to rely on this level of transparency as a crucial check and balance on the Government. Public scrutiny brings an added measure of confidence to our system of democratic governance and further reassures the American people that senior public officials uphold the highest standards of integrity. Moreover, public financial disclosure demonstrates the Government's commitment to keeping the citizenry informed and involved in the decision making process of their leaders. It sends a clear message that citizens have a role to play in ensuring the effective and honest functioning of Government. In addition to informing the public, financial disclosure provides ethics officials with a tool to counsel senior officials on possible conflicts of interest. The act of filing public financial disclosure reminds senior officials of the ethical standards they must meet and the high level of transparency and integrity that their position demands.

The results of a recent survey of executive branch employees confirms the positive impact of financial disclosure and ethics training on employee perceptions and awareness of the ethics program. The survey report, entitled Executive Branch Employee Ethics Survey 2000, provided a number of interesting findings. The study, designed to measure employee perceptions of the ethics program, indicated the importance of financial disclosure and regular ethics training in enhancing awareness of ethics program requirements. Officials who are required to file financial disclosure reports are also required to receive ethics training annually. According to survey results, these officials are more likely to be familiar with the rules of ethical conduct and to seek advice and counsel from ethics officials when ethics issues arise. Furthermore, survey respondents who attended regular training had a more positive perception of their agency's ethical cultural compared to employees who attended training less frequently. Of all available methods, employees indicated that in-person training led by an agency ethics official was most effective in raising program awareness.

In addition to underscoring the relationship between training and program awareness, survey respondents emphasized the role of strong supervisory and political leadership in the success of the ethics program. Respondents who indicated a high level of awareness of the ethics program also noted the importance of executive leadership in promoting ethical behavior on the part of agency employees. According to survey responses, supervisory attention to ethics and executive leadership were the two highest factors in facilitating intended ethics program outcomes. These results support the notion that leaders who strive to integrate ethical conduct within the mission of their agencies, and who demonstrate that commitment through their own conduct, are more likely to gain an equal commitment from agency employees. While the survey was designed only to measure employee perceptions, it provides useful data for assessing program effectiveness and targeting resources in order to improve program outcomes.

Survey results, and further corroboration through empirical evidence from the private sector, supports the notion that executive and supervisory leadership is perhaps the most important resource in developing ethical conduct within Government and in effect helping to earn the public's trust. As one private sector study on this issue summarized: Leadership was a key ethical culture factor -- one of the most important factors in the study. Where employees perceived that supervisors and executives regularly pay attention to ethics, take ethics seriously, and care about ethics and values as much as the bottom line, all of the outcomes were significantly more positive. Employees paint all leaders with the same broad ethical brush. When it comes to ethics, leaders are leaders, and the level (supervisory or executive) doesn't seem to matter much to employees.

The concept of leadership is embodied in the structural design of the ethics program in the executive branch. Leadership is diffused throughout the ethics program on account of the decentralized network of agency ethics offices and the oversight role OGE plays in this system. OGE exercises leadership through its role in coordinating the efforts of agency ethics offices, while agency DAEOs strive to exert their own leadership over their ethics programs. In this very practical way, leadership and ethics are intrinsic to one another. In order to be successful, the ethics program must be actively promoted through proactive leadership, while leaders themselves must demonstrate their own ethical conduct as the foundation of their moral authority to serve as leaders.

While the ethics program in the United States is designed to foster ethical conduct within Government, its ultimate goal is to maintain public confidence that Government is serving the interests, needs, and demands of all citizens. The structure of the program is only one model for achieving the challenging task of integrating accountability with democratic governance. It is designed to provide alternatives to relying strictly on law enforcement efforts to address wrongdoing by emphasizing prevention approaches that both complement and enhance law enforcement efforts. Over the years this structure has proven effective in accounting for the size, extent, and diversity of the executive branch, while implementing systems of prevention, such as a code of conduct and financial disclosure. These elements are only a piece, albeit an important one, of the larger mission to prevent conflicts of interest and provide the public with the access and information it needs to hold Government accountable to the highest standards of integrity and honesty. Ultimately we must reach for the standard Woodrow Wilson set in his classic work on democracy:

A sense of highest responsibility, a dignifying and elevating sense of being trusted, together with a consciousness of being in an official station so conspicuous that no faithful discharge of duty can go unacknowledged and unrewarded, and no breach of trust undiscovered and unpunished, — these are the influences, the only influences, which foster practical, energetic, and trustworthy statesmanship.

Posted by Buck Batard at April 09, 2006 06:33 PM
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"When we look at the executive branch of the U.S. Federal Government today, we find a highly developed ethics infrastructure."

Uh, just how does this pertain to Bushco?

I've also archived this on my hard drive.

Posted by: spiiderweb on April 9, 2006 8:25 PM

Other pages they forgot to delete ...

For example "Disarm Saddam Hussein" on the President's own homepage.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/nationalsecurity/disarm.html

You'll find a very impressive list of Saddam's WMDs there.

Posted by: Peter on April 10, 2006 6:25 AM

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics sounds like a product of Edward Bernays (1891-1995)--"The Father of Spin."

Posted by: Hoffmann on April 10, 2006 7:29 AM
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