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November 30, 2007

Holiday Issues

It's that time of year again! Holiday ethics issues are on us. DOD SOCO has a fact sheet on Partying With Contractors and Supervisors. There is also a good Army memo entitled Happy Holidays and Good Judgment.

Why reinvent the wheel? We welcome your suggestions as to other resources.

Updates: Dec. 3: Typo correction. Dec. 5: Updated URL for party paper to 2006 version.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Contractors in the Workplace, Issues: Gifts | Permalink

November 29, 2007

Army SOCO Web Site

We have updated our link to the OTJJAG [Army] Ethics Website. This site has a number of interesting resources that could be adapted for use by other agencies, including a PowerPoint slide show for training and Mark Stone's information paper on government employees writing letters of recommendation. The Ethics Counselor's Deskbook meets the usual high standard for products of the Army's Judge Advocate General's School in Charlottesville.

Please notify us if you are aware of other agency ethics web sites with valuable information.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 28, 2007

Pro Bono and Government Lawyers

Do the Standards of Conduct prohibit government lawyers from engaging in pro bono activities? Not by a long shot. Here are the Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Service policies.

The Pro Bono section of the ABA's Government and Public Lawyers web site has many resources, including other sample policies and articles.

A possible topic for the next OGE conference?

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Miscellaneous | Permalink

November 27, 2007

Ethics Resources from the Air Force Materiel Command

Mark Stone and Walter Pupko of the Air Force Materiel Command continue to share useful information with the broader ethics community. In just the last few weeks, Mark's "AFMC Ethics Update" e-mails have included the following topics:

  • Serving on the Board of a Non-Federal Organization
  • Sources of Guidance on the OGE Optional Form 450-A
  • Format for Opinion on DOD Personnel Publicly Supporting Changes to State Law
  • Working as an Expert Witness in Private Litigation

To be added to Mark's mailing list, send an e-mail to:

mark DOT stone AT wpafb DOT af DOT mil (address disguised to throw off automated spammer software; reformat to use).

The Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) ethics website, designed and maintained by Walter, has additional useful information. Users get access only after being validated, a relatively easy procedure.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Miscellaneous, Web Resources | Permalink

November 26, 2007

Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure Update

The Department of Defense Standards of Conduct Office has updated its Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure. As aptly described at the DoD SOCO web site:

It is an excellent resource document for training and briefing of personnel. The ability to cite real situations and their disciplinary resolution is an excellent tool to make a point for even those employees that think it unnecessary and enjoy voicing their negative sentiment about the need for training.

An updates only version is available.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Training Aids | Permalink

November 23, 2007

Responding to Reader Feedback

Here are responses to several reader comments:

A. High Praise Indeed

A Sunlight Foundation project, Realtime Investigations, referred to IEC Journal as "the invaluable blog devoted to developments in federal government ethics." Thanks!

B. Another Satisfied Customer

Another reader told us via e-mail: "You guys do such a great job, and always have such interesting items posted. I check the IEC website at least a couple of times a week and always learn something. Thanks!"

It's always nice to get compliments, but the best part was that the note included a suggested topic for an IEC Journal entry. We welcome your suggestions on topics, or anything else.

C. RSS Troubleshooting

Another reader asked about setting up an RSS reader. If you are having trouble, the first step is to make sure there's no confusion between the e-mail echo service we are using (RssFwd) and an RSS reader. As explained previously, the e-mail echo service "scrapes" the postings and redistributes them by e-mail. By contrast, an RSS reader is a separate, stand-alone program designed specifically for automatic collecting of RSS feeds from web site and formatting them for convenient reading. More explanation of RSS readers is available.

If your problem is with an RSS reader, the next troubleshooting step is to try using it with the RSS feed from some other web site. If it still won't work, the problem is probably with the newsreader software you have selected. Check the instructions or ask a tech-savvy friend for help. If you still can't figure it out, contact us and we will try to help. Tell us which software you are using, as there are hundreds of different newsreaders available.

Updated Nov. 26 for improved clarity.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 21, 2007

IG Bill Advances

Thanks to John Szabo for the alert to a Government Executive article about the IG bill. It has passed the House and now has been reported out by the Senate Committee.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Inspectors General | Permalink

November 20, 2007

Course on Ethics in the Grant Environment

A company named Management Concepts is holding a series of courses on ethics issues for federal agency employees who work on grants. One class will be held on Dec. 5 in Washington, D.C. The company's web site has a list of other cities and other dates. Here are the course objectives:

Students will: Review legislative actions and judicial decisions that affect the standards of ethical conduct for executive branch employees · Determine whether actions of federal personnel comply with the regulations at 5 CFR 2635 · Review and discuss agency appeals board cases dealing with ethical issues such as unlawful representation by employees after retirement and payments to federal employees by recipients · Discuss restrictions on requirements that agencies can impose on recipients · Explore methods for ensuring fairness in the grant review and award process · Analyze agency activities to determine whether they violate restrictions on lobbying.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Training Aids | Permalink

November 19, 2007

Error Message on Subscription?

A couple of people have reported receiving an error message ("cannot find server") when trying to subscribe to the IEC Journal e-mail echo by clicking on the link to RssFwd. I have not been able to replicate this error message, trying most recently this morning. However, the server has sometimes responded very slowly, so I suspect the error is transient. Try again at a different time and contact us if you continue to have problems with this free service.

Update: Edited 11/20 to improve clarity.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 18, 2007

Training on Certifying Confidential Financial Disclosure Reports

OGE will hold training on December 4, 5, 11 and 12 on the subject of Certifying Confidential Financial Disclosure Reports (OGE 450).  The course objectives are:

  • Increase your knowledge and skills in reviewing reports
  • Learn how the conflict of interest laws and standards of conduct relate to your review of each
    part of the OGE 450 report
  • Learn the most common errors employees make in completing the report and how to resolve them

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Financial Disclosure, Training (to Attend) | Permalink

November 17, 2007

Help on CFC Issues

Having trouble with Combined Federal Campaign issues? Check out the special issue of the DoD SOCO newsletter devoted solely to that topic.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Web Resources | Permalink

November 16, 2007

IGs in the News

A Time magazine story entitled Federal Watchdogs Under Fire surveys a number of recent controversies involving Inspectors General. A Federal Times Op-Ed piece by Department of Energy IG Greg Friedman entitled Inspectors General Safeguard Public Resources provides a different perspective. Government Executive reports that a bill to strengthen IG independence is on the fast track to passage.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Inspectors General | Permalink

November 15, 2007

CDs from Ethics Training Symposium

As announced at Wednesday's IEC meeting, there are still some CDs from Ethics Training Symposium: Time To Get Creative. To get a copy, contact Gwen Cannon-Jenkins at 202 482-9219 or email at gcannon -- AT-- oge -- DOT -- gov (address disguised to throw off automated spammer software).

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Training Aids | Permalink

November 14, 2007

December Meeting

Next month's meeting will take place on the usual first Thursday of the month, December 6th, at 12:15 and at the usual place, the OTS auditorium, 1700 G Street, N.W. -- the corner of 17th and G Streets.  (Please note that represents a change from the date and site previously announced.)  Our guest speaker will be Mr. Robert Cusick, the Director, Office of Government Ethics, who will present the annual state of OGE overview.  As always, this promises to be a very popular and informative meeting, so you'll want to make sure that your agency is represented. 

Individuals who are on the IEC roster need not pre-register for our monthly meetings.  Ethics officials who are not on our roster but who wish to attend next month's meeting can pre-register by contacting Patrick Carney not later than Monday, December 3rd.  Those who are neither on our roster nor pre-registered for this meeting can still be admitted upon showing a Government ID to OTS security personnel and signing in.

Posted by PJC in IEC Meetings | Permalink

Accepting Promotional Benefits

Standards of Conduct Counselors so often find themselves in the role of heavy, delivering bad news. How would you like to deliver some good news for a change?

On returning from Lenny Loewentritt's excellent briefing on travel at yesterday's IEC meeting (slides available here), I tried a little experiment. About 40% of the employees in my agency that I queried were not aware that federal employees can now accept promotional items like frequent flier miles, upgrades, access to airline clubs or facilities. Many employees remember the old rule that barred acceptance of such benefits, and are not aware that it was changed in 2002 by Section 1116 of Pub. L. 107-107, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2002.

If your agency is like mine, a little employee awareness-raising may be in order.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 13, 2007

Receiving IEC Journal Posts by E-mail

Subscribing to receive copies of IEC Journal posts by e-mail is a four step process:

1. Go to RssFwd.

2. When asked for the RSS feed, enter: http://www.iecjournal.org

3. Enter your e-mail address when requested.

4. Reply to the confirmation e-mail.

Notes:

RssFwd gives you options as to how e-mails are delivered to you. You can modify these when you initially subscribe or at any later time later through the "Manage your subscription" link at bottom of each e-mail. You can stop your subscription the same way.

Be aware that the e-mails received through this system are oddly formatted. Here's an example.

RssFwd is a free service that converts each new posting into an e-mail, and forwards it to your e-mail In Box automatically. There are a number of such free services. We have been using RssFwd since February 2007. Except for the odd formatting, it seems to reasonably work well, but we welcome your suggestions as to alternatives.

A more detailed explanation, with screen capture printouts, was distributed at the October and November IEC meetings.

In lieu of getting e-mail, some people may prefer to use a separate RSS reader program. These are much more efficient, but only if you use them to monitor multiple sites. Information on using RSS readers is available.

Thanks to Beverly Jordan for pointing out that our directions for subscribing to receive IEC Journal posts by e-mail could be improved.

Updated:
Our November 19 post had troubleshooting tips.
Also updated November 14 with various minor improvements.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

DoD Education Activity Job Opening

The DoD Education Activity Office of General Counsel has released a Personnel Notice for a GS-14/15 attorney vacancy at its headquarters office in Arlington, VA.  The attorney will be expected to practice in the area of civilian personnel law (both employment and labor) with a focus on litigation, and have experience in the area of Government ethics/standards of conduct, including developing and conducting ethics training.  The announcement is posted on USA JOBS (Announcement Number 07-HQ-092-DW) and applications must be received by November 28, 2007

Posted by PJC in Help Wanted | Permalink

FEC Seeking Lawyer

The Federal Elections Commission is recruiting a GS-12/14 ethics lawyer. Closing date is Dec. 7. Details at USA Jobs.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Help Wanted | Permalink

POGO: Down on Awards from Contractors

POGO (the Project on Government Oversight) does not have a high opinion of contractor-sponsored awards to government officials:

This contractor-sponsored extravaganza honored government and industry partnering to achieve “excellence.” We’re not sure what that means exactly, but a number of reports from the dinner indicate that contractors feted themselves for landing large government contract awards, and for generally doing everything they can to permeate all facets of government agency operations, making the distinctions between public servants and their contractor “partners” ever more blurred. Particularly disturbing were the honors bestowed on current government executives... . These government leaders may very well merit praise for their service on behalf of the public, but it is quite disconcerting to see that praise lavished upon them by contractors who receive billions of dollars a year in contract awards from the organizations these people run.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Procurement | Permalink

November 12, 2007

Bad News, Good News

Government Executive's Tom Shoop surveys recent stories about good and bad conduct by federal employees and concludes:

Even for those of us who cover the federal government on a regular basis, it's easy to focus on stories of employees who run rental subsidy scams or rip the heads off ducks. It was nice to get a reminder that stories like Lewis' are a lot more typical of the people who devote their careers to federal service.

Does the fact that it's easier than ever to find stories of federal employees gone bad in the media mean that news organizations are, like always, more interested in the negative news than the positive? Well, yeah. But remember, this isn't just any institution we're talking about here. This is the U.S. government. And its employees should be held to a higher standard. Which it makes it all the more impressive when they meet or clear it.

Posted by IEC Team Leader | Permalink

November 11, 2007

Crossword Puzzle #5

OGE has released the fifth crossword puzzle for ethics training.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Training Aids | Permalink

November 10, 2007

Fedblog on Whistleblowers

Government Executive's Fedblog has some comments about a new report from the Center for Investigative Reporting and Salon that concludes "federal whistleblowers almost never receive legal protection after they take action."

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Whistleblowers | Permalink

More On Abuse of Database

Computer security expert Bruce Schneier has comments on the case of a federal agent misusing a database to track his ex-girlfriend reported here earlier:

What I want to know is how he got caught. It can be very hard to catch insiders like this; good audit systems are essential, but often overlooked in the design process.

The comments to Schneier's post reveal a great deal of concern about the integrity of government officials with access to personal information.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Misuse of Govt. Resources | Permalink

November 09, 2007

Following Up on Initial Ethics Orientation

Updated September 2, 2008 to correct links changed by OGE web site upgrade:

Wayne L. Johnson has graciously provided us copies of materials his agency uses for initial employee orientation:

We appreciate contributions from public-spirited people like Mr. Johnson and encourage others to share materials that might be of use to the larger ethics community.

Update: Mr. Johnson's updated materials on SGEs are available in our January 22, 2008 posting.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Training Aids | Permalink

Frequently Asked Questions About SF 278

OGE has published a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the SF 278 financial disclosure form.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Financial Disclosure | Permalink

Department of State Recruiting GS-11/12 Paralegal

The Department of State has a paralegal opening. Details at  USA Jobs. The closing date is Monday, November 19, 2007.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Help Wanted | Permalink

November 08, 2007

Slides for Loewentritt Travel Presentation

Lenny Loewentritt has been kind enough to provide us a copy of the slides he will use for his November 13 presentation on travel issues. Topics to be covered include:

  • Acceptance of travel payments (very timely in view of recent news stories)
  • Promotional items
  • Use of the charge card
  • Airline city pairs contract
  • Appropriate use of a rental car while on TDY

Join us next Tuesday for this always educational and entertaining look at the world of ethics travel issues.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Travel | Permalink

Travel Reimbursement Controversy Continues

Today's Washington Post has still more on alleged violations of travel reimbursement rules at the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Thanks to the alert Cary Williams for tipping us off to this issue. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Use the "Contact Us" address at left (changed occasionally to evade spammers).

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Fiscal Law, Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Issues: Financial Disclosure | Permalink

November 07, 2007

Reporting Payments from Non-Federal Sources: OGE Guidance & News Reports

OGE has issued additional guidance concerning required semiannual reports of payments for travel, subsistence and related expenses received from non-Federal sources in connection with the attendance of employees at certain meetings or similar functions (31 U.S.C. § 1353). The guidance clarifies the OGE role:

OGE is responsible for making the information provided by the agencies available to the public. It is each agency’s responsibility to file the accurate and complete reports and to make the appropriate conflict of interest analysis. (See 68 Federal Register 12602-12610 published March 17, 2003.)

Such payments to federal employees has been a hot topic in the Washington Post, which published feature stories about problems at the Consumer Products Safety Commission on  November 2, November 3 and November 6, as well as a November 3 editorial. The November 2 article attracted 338 public comments, a large number, before the Post editors closed it to additional comments.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Issues: Financial Disclosure, Issues: Outside Activities, Issues: Travel | Permalink

November 06, 2007

Second Look At Post Ethics Story

An October 1 story Washington Post story examined a retired Air Force officer who was given a temporary job with a nonprofit defense contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, while waiting a White House appointment for the number two Air Force procurement job. The Post quoted Lt. Col.  Charles Riechers as saying, "I really didn't do anything for CRI," in a context that sounded like an admission of ethical impropriety. Two weeks after the Post story, Riechers was found dead, an apparent suicide.

Spurred by Air Force complaints about the original story, Debroah Howell, the Post Ombudsman re-examined the Reichers case in a recent column. She concluded that the original story may have been overly simplistic. She discovered a wide range of expert opinion on whether the temporary job was unethical. Here are some of the opinions:

Stan Z. Soloway, a deputy undersecretary of defense during the Clinton administration, was critical of the story and headline. "It lacked important context and facts. There are questions of appearance here, but this does not appear to have been a no-work contract. He did work for the Air Force. While it doesn't mean the arrangement was the right thing to do, the picture is somewhat different when you look at the context." Soloway is president of the Professional Services Council, which represents the government services industry.

David M. Nadler, a government contracts partner at the firm Dickstein Shapiro, is a former Navy lawyer. He felt the arrangement was "questionable. Even if there is a legal justification, there's still a real appearance problem. Especially because of its prior situation with Druyun, you would think the Air Force would have been sensitive to the appearance issue." Riechers's job was last held by Darleen A. Druyun, a career civil servant who went to prison in 2004 for negotiating a job with Boeing while she worked for the Air Force and for showing favoritism toward the company in procurement.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Issues: Contractors in the Workplace | Permalink

November 05, 2007

Devaney: Accountability Starts At The Top

Earl Devaney, the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, and Chris Martinez, a member of his staff, have an extremely interesting article entitled "The Buck Stops Here" in The Journal of Public Inquiry. A copy of Devaney's article is attached, while a complete copy of all 8 Mb worth of articles from the Spring/Summer 2007 issue is available at the web site of the President's Council for Integrity and Efficiency.

The thesis is that the key to government integrity is holding senior managers accountable for lapses that occur on their watch, on something close to a strict liability basis. The Introduction summarizes this idea:

By far, the most effective way for government to prevent ethical and legal abuses within its ranks is not to focus myopically on individual instances of wrongdoing as they occur, but to imbue one’s workforce with an affirmative, all-permeating sense of integrity – to shine a light of excellence that dispels the shadows from which malfeasance sprouts. This article is a discussion of quotes from notable historical figures, provisions of law, and other authoritative sources establishing the theoretical basis for holding high level officials accountable for cultures of waste, fraud, abuse, or other indiscretion within their organizations. That is to say, this standard of supervisory responsibility does not depend on whether the official knew or should have known of the bad acts of his or her subordinates, or participated in them to any degree. Instead, it is the high official’s duty to actively prevent, seek out, and eradicate the harmful mentalities that can result in such negligence or misdeeds. Furthermore, because no duty truly exists without a consequence for having failed it, this article also provides a theoretical basis for holding such senior officials to account for their unwillingness or inability to prevent a harmful culture from growing within their organizations.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Inspectors General, Miscellaneous | Permalink

November 04, 2007

Whistleblower Confidentiality in E-mail

Is it wise for whistleblowers to use agency e-mail? The Washington Times has an article about allegations that federal managers snooped into the e-mails of an employee who had provided Congress with information about problems at the agency. An SBA OIG audit deals with the same topic.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Whistleblowers | Permalink

November 03, 2007

Bribery of Contracting Officer

A Department of Justice press release describes a  scheme to bribe a GSA contracting officer in search of three security guard contracts worth $130 million contract. Here's an excerpt:

The information alleges that Nelson received over $100,000 in cash bribes from Holiday, in addition to the Caribbean cruise. Nelson is alleged to have failed to report the cash bribes and other benefits she received from Holiday as income on her 2002 individual tax return and arranged to receive the bribes in cash and to deposit the cash in amounts less than $10,000 at different financial institutions to evade the requirement that banks report transactions involving $10,000 or more.

Thanks to the Washington Post's Government Inc. for the link. A comment posted there reveals the corrosive effect of procurement scandals on public cynicism:

Unfortunately, this particular contracting officer, probably because of her relatively low position, had to resort to taking cash bribes, which are clearly illegal. Had she been higher ranking, she could have given the company all it wanted in exchange for a job later on (despite the existence of the so-called Procurement Integrity law). Sadly, it appears that many senior government contracting officials are tomorrow's contractor executives or managers.

If you go to any of the contractor association conferences, you will see the networking in action, as government contracting personnel (usually those considering retirement) jockey for contractor jobs. Not bribery - technically, but you can't help but get the feeling that they are selling themselves to the "highest bidder".

Posted by IEC Team Leader | Permalink

November 02, 2007

OGE Seeking GS-15 Training Manager

The Office of Government Ethics is seeking a GS-15 training manager. This person will develop the executive branch ethics education program, policies, goals, and priorities. Academic training in and/or experience in the field of education is required. The closing date is Monday, November 26, 2007.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Help Wanted | Permalink

Ethics Reporting & E-Gov

Jerry Brito, a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University has published a critique of federal efforts to make information available to the public online:

Unfortunately, many of the statutory requirements for disclosure do not take Internet technology into account. For example, the 1978 Ethics in Government Act requires the disclosure of financial information -- including the source, type, and amount of income -- by many federal employees, elected officials, and candidates for office, including the president and vice president, and members of Congress. The act further requires that all filings be available to the public. One might imagine, then, that every representative or senator’s information would be just a Web search away, but one would be wrong.

Mr. Brito further comments that, “Even when public information is available online, it is often not available in an easily accessible form. If data is difficult to search for and find, the effect might be the same as if it were not online.” Mr. Brito's diagnosis of the cause of the perceived problem? “Bureaucratic inertia” and the lack of an incentive to make public information easily accessible. Thanks to Tech Insider for the link.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Miscellaneous | Permalink

November 01, 2007

Initial Ethics Training Follow-Up

Thanks to those who responded to the question about initial ethics training. Two resources in particular address this need:

  1. The Office of Government Ethics has put together a package of instructional aids entitled "Ethics Orientation: What Does Ethics Mean to You?" It includes workbooks for trainees, an instructor's guide, an evaluation form and a PowerPoint slide showIt's not available at the OGE web site for downloading, but you can get a copy by contacting Gwendolyn Cannon-Jenkins.
  2. The Department of Agriculture has an online training module on this topic.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Training Aids | Permalink