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May 31, 2011

GSA final rule for increase in "minimal value" for Foreign Gifts & Decorations Act

GSA published a final rule on 26 May 2011 increasing the "minimal Value" for foreign gifts under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act (5 U.S.C. 7342), from $335 to $350, retroactive to January 1, 2011.  See 76 Fed. Reg. 30550 (http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/05/26/2011-13028/federal-management-regulation-change-in-consumer-price-index-minimal-value#p-3). 

It is anticipated that the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) will in turn issue a final rule amending 5 CFR 2634.304 and 2634.907(g) to increase (1) the aggregation reporting threshold for gifts from a single source on OGE Forms 278 and 450 to $350 and (2) the exclusion for individual items to $140.  It is also anticipated that OGE will revise 5 CFR 2635.204(g)(2) to increase to $350 the gift exception ceiling for non-sponsor gifts of free attendance at widely attended gatherings. 

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Gifts | Permalink

May 29, 2011

OGE Resources for Dealing With Contractors in the Workplace

A subscription to the OGE mailing list (address in right column) is a must for all federal ethics officials. Last week's post on resources for dealing with contractors in the workplace is a good example. The resources include:

For employees -

For ethics officials/trainers -

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Contractors in the Workplace, OGE, Training Aids, Web Resources | Permalink

May 28, 2011

NSA Whistleblower Complains of Harsh Treatment

TPM Muckraker reports on the claim of an NSA whistleblower that the harsh treatment he received is intended to intimidate other whistleblowers. Here's an excerpt:

The government is telling whistleblowers "do not tell truth to power, we'll hammer you," Drake told CBS. His on-camera interview followed an article in the New Yorker on his prosecution by the Obama administration's Justice Department. The trial is set to begin next month.

Drake is being prosecuted not for talking with a reporter but for taking home classified documents. But thanks to a mistake by the prosecutor handling the case (he sent the defense team an earlier draft of the indictment against Drake), the former NSA official's lawyers can see how greatly the scope of the indictment was reduced.

He was no longer charged with leaking classified documents or being part of a conspiracy -- rather he was charged with the "willful retention" of five documents. Even with those reduced charges, Drake still faces up to thirty-five years in prison.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Whistleblowers | Permalink

May 27, 2011

Gonzales Expresses Regret Over Politicized DOJ Hiring

Excerpts from a Legal Times BLT blog post:

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said for the first time that "I am disappointed that I didn't do things differently" to stop the politicization of the system of hiring career Justice Department attorneys through its honors program during his time in office. ...

Internal investigations of the honors and summer intern programs that were made public in 2008 found that Department officials did Internet searches to investigate the applicants' political and ideological affiliations, added that information to applicants' files, and used it to "deselect" some of those who would otherwise have been interviewed and hired. One candidate was nixed because he had run for office as a Green Party candidate. The suit as it now stands is based mainly on the Privacy Act, which bars the government from maintaining records about individuals' exercise of First Amendment rights unless authorized by law.

TPM Muckraker has a copy of the former Attorney General's depostion.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Hatch Act | Permalink

May 26, 2011

Follow-up to Article on Sarah Palin Book Author Ethics Investigation

We received requests for more information concerning the ethics regulation at issue in the Sarah Palin book controversy.  We believe that the attorney general's office in Alaska is investigating whether former Palin aide and author, Frank Bailey, violated a provision in the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act, Sec. 39.52.140, which states:

Sec. 39.52.140. Improper use or disclosure of information.

(a) A current or former public officer may not disclose or use information gained in the
course of, or by reason of, the officer's official duties that could in any way result in the receipt of any benefit for the officer or an immediate family member, if the information has not also been disseminated to the public.
(b) A current or former public officer may not disclose or use, without appropriate
authorization, information acquired in the course of official duties that is confidential by law.

Thanks to reader Cary Williams at FRB for the question and code cite. 

Posted by IEC Team 3 | Permalink

May 25, 2011

Recent Survey Shows 51% of Public Equates "Revolving Door" with Bribery

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey found that 51% of American adults think that when a company offers a government regulator a job, it is a form of bribery, even if legal under the ethics rules.  The survey found that 59% thought that companies routinely hire former government officials to gain favor with the government.  1,000 people completed the survey, conducted earlier this month.

Posted by IEC Team 3 | Permalink

May 24, 2011

Palin Author Investigated Over Propriety of Using E-mails

Frank Bailey, a former aide to Sarah Palin, released a tell-all book this week, chronicling his time working for the former Governor from 2006-2008.  His book is largely based on emails he sent and received during that time.  As a result, the Alaska attorney general's office is looking into Bailey's use of the emails, citing the ethics regulation that bars former public officials from using information acquired during their work for personal gain if the information hasn't been publicly disseminated.  While Bailey's attorney maintains Bailey took great care to ensure compliance with all legal requirements, the issue serves as a reminder to all former public officials to check with their ethics office when planning to embark on a project that involves using information garnered from time in public service. 

Posted by IEC Team 3 in Issues: Misuse of Position | Permalink

Prosecutor Sues DOJ over Leak of Ethics Probe

From the Legal Times blog, BLT:

Former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino wants an appeals court in Washington to revive his suit that alleges the U.S. Justice Department unlawfully leaked information about an ethics investigation stemming from his work on a terror case in Detroit. ...

Convertino sued DOJ in February 2004, alleging the government intentionally leaked to the press information about an Office of Professional Responsibility misconduct probe to retaliate against him for congressional testimony.

The plaintiff's inability to identify the leaker apparently motivated the District Court to grant the DOJ motion for summary judgment.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Legal Ethics | Permalink

May 21, 2011

Does Giving Someone a Free Cup of Coffee Induce Corruption?

Washington Monthly essayist Joshua Tucker contemplates the slippery slope of accepting small gratuities. Here's an excerpt:

The problem is, where do you draw the line? If three of the four coffee shops in a neighborhood give out free coffee to the police, does the fourth one have to? And if it is OK to give the policy coffee, then how about a bagel? If a bagel’s fine, what about breakfast? And if breakfast is OK, then how about dinner? And why stop there - surely the copy store and the stationary store will want to show their appreciation as well. Some small businesses may not have an appropriately useful gift from the shop for the local police, so why not just give them money? And of course, why stop with the police? The fire department also provides useful services, as do local building inspectors, and so on. At some point, this begins to resemble a much more corrupt society, where cash is needed to secure services that are supposed to be provided by the state.

via www.washingtonmonthly.com

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Gifts | Permalink

May 19, 2011

HHS ethics specialist vacancy (promotion potential - GS 13)

The Department of Health and Human Services is currently conducting a search for an Ethics Specialist to serve in the HHS Office of the General Counsel, Ethics Division, Financial Disclosure Section.  The successful candidate will perform a wide range of assignments related to the Department’s financial disclosure and ethics programs but will focus primarily on review of financial disclosure forms.

This full-time position is located in Washington, DC, with an annual salary ranging from $51,630.00 - $115,742.00.   The vacancy is open through Wednesday, June 1st.  

To view the Public Announcements (HHS-OGC-DE-11-477950 and HHS-OGC-DE-11-477885 open to all U.S. citizens) visit:


To view the Merit Promotion Announcements (HHS-OGC-MP-11-477944 and HHS-OGC-MP-11-477953 open to current and former Federal Employees) visit:


Posted by Account Deleted in Help Wanted | Permalink

May 18, 2011

President's 2010 Public Financial Disclosure Report Released

Cnn.com ran an article this morning that discusses the changes to President Obama's investments, as reflected on his 2010 public financial disclosure report, released Monday.  Among the biggest changes from last year's report- more college savings in his 529 plans and large investments in U.S. Treasury securities.  The President and Vice-President's reports are posted on the White House web site.

Posted by IEC Team 3 in Issues: Financial Disclosure | Permalink

Ethics in the news

More articles related to ethics, misuse of position, or misconduct by public officials:

Posted by Account Deleted in News | Permalink

May 17, 2011

The Official Standards of Ethical Conduct Movie Site

Standards of Ethics Conduct Movie is a parody of ethical standards in the private sector that could have some incidental value for the federal sector. A 2009 Baltimore City Paper review described the 45 minute film as "a disarmingly sweet and funny take on situations most office drones know all too well: The suffocating efforts of management to sandpaper all shreds of humanity from the cubicle-bound employees who push company papers."

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Web Resources | Permalink

May 16, 2011

POGO report on "revolving door" conflicts for former SEC employees

On May 13, 2011, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) released a report discussing entitled: Revolving Regulators: SEC Faces Ethic Challenges with Revolving Door.  The report was features not only discussion of the potential conflicts between former employees and their post-SEC positions, but also includes a public database of post-employment statements filed by former SEC employees between 2006 and 2010.  See POGO report at http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/reports/financial-oversight/revolving-regulators/fo-fra-20110513.html.  And GovExec article summarizing the same: http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=47807&dcn=e_gvet.

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Issues: Post Employment | Permalink

OGE Seeks Program Excellence & Innovation Nominees

May 27 is the deadline for nominations for the OGE Program Excellence and Innovation Awards.


Posted by IEC Team Leader in OGE | Permalink

May 15, 2011

F.C.C. Commissioner Defends Taking Comcast Job

A resigning F.C.C. Commissioner defended her decision to take a job with Comcast in a NY Times story:

“I have not only complied with the legal and ethical laws, but I also have gone further,” Ms. Baker said. “I have not participated or voted any item, not just those related to Comcast or NBC Universal, since entering discussions about an offer of potential employment. Because of this, I plan to depart the commission as soon as I am able to ensure an orderly wind-down of my office.”

In her new position as head of governmental affairs for NBCUniversal, Ms. Baker faces significant restrictions in her ability to lobby F.C.C. officials, in part because of an Obama administration ethics pledge that she signed. She is not allowed to lobby anyone at the F.C.C. for two years after her departure and will be barred from lobbying other political appointees at the F.C.C. for the remainder of the Obama administration, including a second term if the president is re-elected.

She also faces a lifetime ban on lobbying any executive branch agency, including the F.C.C., on the agreement that Comcast made with the commission as a condition of its approval of the merger with NBC Universal. She will be allowed to lobby members of Congress immediately, however. “I will of course comply with all government ethics and Obama pledge restrictions going forward,” Ms. Baker said.

A Washington Post story has more. A Google News search revealed about 160 other articles on the situation, mostly negative.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Post Employment | Permalink

May 13, 2011

Senate Ethics Committee Refers Case on Former Nevada Senator to DOJ

A news article on cnn.com states that the Senate Ethics Committee referred key findings in its case against former Senator John Ensign to the Justice Department.  Ensign has been under investigation for allegedly violating Senate Rules and federal civil and criminal laws, and engaging in improper conduct.  Ensign resigned from his Senate seat on May 3 after news broke that he had had an affair with the wife of one of his top aides.

Posted by IEC Team 3 in News | Permalink

More FAQs from the Office of Special Counsel

On May 12, 2011, OSC issued more Frequently Asked Questions focused on Presidential appointee with Senate confirmation (or PAS).  The questions and answer are already posted on their website at http://www.osc.gov/haFederalfaq.htm.  The questions include:

  • I am an employee who was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.  Am I covered by the Hatch Act?
  • I am an employee who was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.  Does the exemption from the Hatch Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty, which applies to me, also apply to my staff?
  • May a Presidential appointee with Senate confirmation (PAS) ask a subordinate schedule C or non-career senior executive service appointee (or any other subordinate federal employee) to write a policy speech for the PAS to give at a partisan political event?
  • May an employee appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate (PAS), ask his chief of staff (or any other subordinate employee) to contact and/or liaison with a political party to find out where, or if, the party needs the PAS’s help?
  • May a Presidential appointee with Senate confirmation (PAS) ask his executive assistant (or any other subordinate employee) to attend a political party meeting that the PAS is scheduled to attend but is now unable to do so?

If you have any Hatch Act related questions, OSC's Hatch Act unit is available at 202-254-3650 or Hatchact@osc.gov

Posted by Account Deleted in Hatch Act | Permalink

May 12, 2011

Former OSC Chief Lawsuit

Al Kamen's In The Loop column discusses former Office of Special Counsel Chief Scott Bloch's $202 million RICO lawsuit against multiple defendants, including Karl Rove, Tom Davis and multiple other defendants, including the Government Accountability Project, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Project on Government Oversight.

Courthouse News Service has the 63 page complaint.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OSC | Permalink

Ethics related news

Here are a couple items of interest:

Posted by Account Deleted in News | Permalink

May 10, 2011

OSC additional guidance on photos of the President & Vice President

On April 5, 2011, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) issued guidance regarding pictures of President Obama in the federal workplace now that he is officially a candidate for reelection.  That opinion can be found on our website: http://www.osc.gov/documents/hatchact/federal/2011-04-05%20FAQ%20Re%20Presidential%20photographs%20and%20candidacy%20for%20reelection.pdf

Since issuing that opinion, OSC has received several inquiries regarding pictures of Vice President Biden.  In a listserve email, OSC advises that the guidance we issued about pictures of President Obama also applies to pictures of Vice President Biden.

In addition, OSC has been asked whether employees appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate (PAS’s), should follow this same guidance.  They confirmed, certain PAS’s, who meet the criteria set forth in 5 U.S.C. § 7324(b), are exempt from the Hatch Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty, in a federal room or building, while wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle.  The legislative history of the political activity exemption of 5 U.S.C. § 7324(b) reveals that it is a narrow exemption created to accommodate high-level political officials who would never have an opportunity to engage in political activity because they are on duty or on call by the President at all times.  H.R. Rep. No. 103-16, at 22 (1993).  The exemption was never intended to allow a PAS to engage in excessive political activity while on duty or in a government building.  See id.  Furthermore, a PAS who is exempt from these political activity restrictions is still subject to the restriction against using his official authority or influence for the purpose of affecting the results of a partisan election. 

Therefore, PAS’s should not engage in any activity that would implicitly coerce subordinate employees to support a candidate in a partisan election.  Accordingly, OSC has advised PAS’s not to display partisan campaign materials in the federal workspace.  In the same vein, OSC would advise PAS’s to follow OSC’s April 5, 2011, guidance regarding Presidential photographs.

If you have any Hatch Act related questions, OSC's Hatch Act unit is available at 202-254-3650 or Hatchact@osc.gov. 

Posted by Account Deleted in Hatch Act | Permalink

June 2nd Meeting

At our Thursday, June 2nd meeting we are pleased to have as our speaker, Dave Maggi, of the Department of Commerce, who will give a presentation on "Outside Organizations and Ethics Rules: Service by Federal Employees with Employee Organizations, Professional Societies, Scientific Groups, and Other Groups."  Dave will discuss the application of the conflicts of interest statutes and the Standards of Ethical Conduct to service by employees with various outside organizations.  You’ll want to be present to for the discussion of this challenging topic.


As usual, we will meet from 12:15-1:30 in the OTS auditorium, at 1700 G Street, N.W. (the corner of 17th and G streets, across from the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House).  As always, individuals who are on the IEC roster need not pre-register for this meeting.  Ethics officials who are not on our roster but who wish to attend can pre-register by contacting Patrick.Carney@fcc.gov not later than Tuesday, May 31st.  Those who are neither on the IEC roster nor pre-registered can still be admitted by showing a Government ID to OTS Security personnel.


For long-term planning purposes: As previously announced, please note that July’s meeting will be our last to take place at the OTS.  We will meet on August 4 at the U.S. Access Board, Suite 800 (Conference Room), 1331 F St., NW. 


For slightly longer-term planning:  Please also note that there will not be an IEC meeting in September in order to avoid conflicting with OGE’s 18th National Government Ethics Conference, which will be held September 13th - 15th in Orlando, Florida, at the Orlando World Center Marriott.

Posted by PJC in IEC Meetings | Permalink

Interesting articles on Congressional Financial Disclosures

Amanda Becker authors an interesting article about Congressional financial disclosure requirements and penalties.  See full article at http://www.rollcall.com/issues/56_119/financial-disclosure-congress-205462-1.html.  She previously published another article on the same revision of the instruction manual from the House Ethics Committee, which avoided including same-sex spouse interests as a reportable information.  See http://www.rollcall.com/issues/56_117/financial-disclosure-same-sex-couples-205356-1.html?pos=adp.

For access to the new House Ethics Committee guidance, see: http://ethics.house.gov/Subjects/List.aspx?subid=6 

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Financial Disclosure, Miscellaneous | Permalink

Former US Marshal Service employee pleads guilty

Sno H. Rush, formerly an employee of the U.S. Marshall Servie, plead guilty to theft of $104,000 in government funds, and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and 3 years supervised probation. The money was appropriated by misuse of her position and government credit card and used to offset her personal credit card debt.  See US DOJ press release at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/May/11-crm-588.html.

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Misuse of Govt. Resources, Issues: Misuse of Position, News | Permalink

May 09, 2011

OGE on YouTube

OGE has training videos at YouTube:

  1. Criminal conflict of interest statute (18 U.S.C. 208)
  2. Impartiality (5 C.F.R. 2635,Subpart E)
  3. Gifts from Outside Sources (5 C.F.R.2635, Subpart B)

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Issues: Gifts, Issues: Misuse of Position, Training Aids | Permalink

May 08, 2011

Virginia State Bar Reprimands Former DOJ Lawyer

Virginia Lawyers Weekly reports that the Virginia State Bar has reprimanded the key official accused of violating civil service hiring rules during the Bush administration. A copy of the reprimand is available.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Legal Ethics | Permalink

May 07, 2011

CLE: Ethical Red Flags for Public Lawyers--May 25

Register at ABA Government and Public Lawyers Division:

Ethical 'Red Flags' for Public Lawyers: Responsibilities, Conflicts and More
CLE Teleconference on May 25, 2011
1:00 - 2:30 PM Eastern

This program focuses on the unique ethical issues confronted by public lawyers using an entertaining, interactive format. Expert panelists dramatize illustrative hypothetical scenarios followed by a discussion session after each hypo. Program topics include: special conflicts of interest for former and current government officers and employees; duties to former clients; communication with persons represented by counsel; organization as a client, and more.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Legal Ethics | Permalink

May 06, 2011

New OSC Q&A for Federal Employees

On May 6, 2011, in an effort to continue providing Hatch Act advice the Office of Special Counsel posted two new frequently asked questions and answers on its website:


Will I violate the Hatch Act if I listen to radio programs discussing partisan politics or candidates for partisan political office, or read a book about politics or political candidates while I am in the federal workplace?

Answer:  No. Some federal agencies allow employees to listen to the radio while they are at work. Merely listening to a radio program that is discussing politics while in the federal workplace, without more, is not a Hatch Act violation. Similarly, merely reading a book about politics or political candidates while in the federal workplace, without more, is not a Hatch Act violation. However, employees should make certain that the federal agency where they work does not have any internal policies prohibiting its employees from generally engaging in any of these activities while at work, (i.e., listening to the radio, reading

Is it a Hatch Act violation for a federal agency to have televisions in the federal workplace that are tuned to stations such as Fox News or MSNBC?

Answer:  No. Watching, or allowing the broadcast of, stations such as Fox News or MSNBC in the federal workplace, without more, does not violate the Hatch Act. Thus, while some federal agencies may have televisions located in lobbies or other public areas within a federal workplace that are tuned to such stations the Hatch Act does not prohibit them from doing so.

See all FAQ at http://www.osc.gov/haFederalfaq.htm

Posted by Account Deleted in Hatch Act | Permalink

OSC Report on Problems At Detroit Airport

Do whistleblowers make us safer? An OSC press release describes flight safety problems at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Whistleblowers | Permalink

May 05, 2011

Social Media Access to IEC Journal

As a convenience to our readers, IEC Journal is now available via Twitter.  Thanks to Erica Dornburg for the suggesting this method of increasing the value of this operation.

Use this URL or hypertext link to access our updates via Twitter:

Apps to access the Twitter feed are available for iPhones, Droids and Blackberries.

We have also set up an IEC Journal page on Facebook:

Our Facebook site has already received a "Very Good" rating from Facebook, but it is not operating perfectly yet. Posts to our main website, http://www.iecjournal.org, are not being automatically reposted to the Facebook account. We are using the Facebook Blogged app, as recommended by Typepad, our website provider, but Facebook provides error messages. We welcome advice from Facebook-savvy IEC members in resolving this.

We'll be adding "badges" to assist in accessing these social media supplements.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

May 04, 2011

Constitutional Limits on Power to Control Employee Outside Activities?

Fedsmith.com reports on Davis v. Billington, a District of Columbia District Court case that could affect the way rules on employee outside activities are applied. The plaintiff is a former U.S. Air Force Colonel whose last assignment had been as the Chief Prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions for the Department of Defense. His new supervisor at the Library of Congress objected to his publishing articles critical of military commissions and took various adverse personnel actions. The District Court for the District of Columbia refused to dismiss a “Bivens” tort claim against his supervisor and the Library of Congress.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Outside Activities | Permalink

POGO on Federal Advisory Committee Website

The Project On Government Oversight reacts to the recent unveiling of the upgraded Federal Advisory Committee website:

[I]t's already a huge improvement over the previous database. Moving forward, we hope GSA can work with Congress, agencies, advisory committees, the Office of Government Ethics, and the NGO community to explore how the government can provide even more information on federal advisory committees and their members. For instance, many agencies have already created exemplary webpages for their advisory committees with links to conflict-of-interest waivers and recusal statements, agency responses to committee reports, and archived video webcasts of committee meetings. This is the kind of thing POGO and other good government advocates would like to see more of as agencies continue to implement their open government initiatives.

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

May 03, 2011

OGE Proposes Exemption to COI Laws Regarding Fed Employees Sitting on Boards

A recent Wall Street Journal blog post states that the Office of Government Ethics has proposed an exemption to the conflict of interest rules that will allow federal employees to sit on the boards of non-profit organizations in their official capacity.  The proposal will be published in the Federal Register today.  The proposal is at odds with the Office of Legal Counsel, which takes the view that "directors of outside organizations are beholden to fiduciary duties under state law that could conflict with the obligations of federal employees."  OGE's Director states that a thorough review process and resignation from the board should a conflict arise would keep potential conflicts at bay. 

An important note: these rules do not apply unless there is appropriate statutory authority to engage in one's official capacity.

OGE is taking public comments on the proposal for the next 60 days.  Link to Federal Register entry:  http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2011/pdf/2011-10629.pdf

Posted by IEC Team 3 in Issues: Conflicts of Interest | Permalink

Unusual Prof. Responsibility Note

In a very unusual case, a South Dakota judge pleads to keep his job, even after a 6-month suspension for rudeness to attorneys, parties and court staff.  See http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/shamed_judge_pleads_to_keep_his_job_tells_top_sd_court/ and background article at http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/udge_faces_potential_removal_due_to/

Posted by Account Deleted in Legal Ethics | Permalink

OGE Seeks Nominations for Program Excellence/Innovation Awards

OGE's solicitation of excellence and innovation nominations is available. The deadline for nominations is May 27. The awards will be presented at the OGE conference in September.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OGE | Permalink

Confirmation Process Reforms Proposed

Via The American Prospect

It's hard to overstate the extent to which the confirmation process has become a mess for everyone involved; presidents are responsible for filling thousands of positions, nominees are forced to endure endless background checks and intense personal scrutiny, and appointees -- even minor ones -- face the prospect of needless, partisan obstruction in the Senate. Over the years, a bevy of experts have offered a stream of suggestions on how to reform the process, but they tend to fall on deaf ears, for mostly straightforward reasons. Simply put, legislators are incredibly loath to give up influence, particularly when it affords them an opportunity to pressure the administration; it's not rare for presidential appointees to become bargaining chips in legislative fights, either as hostages (to be used against the White House) or as sweeteners (from the president) to placate lawmakers.

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

May 01, 2011

Training Tip 11: Handling Questions, Part I

OK, you have gotten through the body of your presentation satisfactorily. Time to relax, right? Nope, there is one hurdle left: The Question and Answer period.

This is when some presenters wilt and others shine. With a few tips, some practice and a modicum of intestinal fortitude, you can shine every time. Here's how:

Anticipate questions. With most topics, it's easy to compile a list of probable questions. Take a little time to plan how you will approach the most difficult. At your option, you can pre-empt these questions by addressing them yourself during the body of your presentation.

Set the ground rules. At the beginning of your talk, tell the audience whether you will be taking questions, and if so, when. Taking questions only after you have finished speaking has much to recommend it.

Consider using question forms. Training Tip 10 explained the many advantages of question forms. Experience has shown that the use of question forms can make dealing with questions much easier.

Ask yourself the question you most want to answer. At the beginning of the Q & A period, tell the audience "People often ask [whatever]". This lets you start strong with an answer that will help you get your message out. This technique also encourages others to ask questions. For similar benefits, some speakers have been known to plant a question with a friendly audience member.

Maintain appropriate eye contact. Focus intently on the questioner when he is speaking, but don't direct your answer only to the questioner.

Ask the questioner to elaborate if the question is unclear. Paraphrasing the question can be an effective technique.

Repeat the question. In many venues, questions will be inaudible to most members of the audience. Repeating the question also reduces the possibility of misunderstanding. Finally, repeating the question can gain a few seconds to formulate your answer.

Avoid the trap of believing you must know the answer to every question. No one knows everything. Offering to look up the answer after the presentation is often the best approach. Some speech experts recommend that if you are stumped, you solicit answers from the audience. Exercise care with this approach. It might work in some situations, like giving a presentation at the OGE conference. It's presumed that many in the OGE conference audience will have significant ethics expertise. On the other hand, this approach could be a disaster when training agency employees. Soliciting audience opinions in that context can forfeit the presumption of authority that your cogent presentation has just reinforced.

Compliment the questioner if deserved. Some speech instructors discourage the practice of complimenting an audience member for asking a good question. Their theory is that this will discourage other audience members from asking questions for fear theirs won't be as good. My experience has been exactly the opposite. I've gotten multiple benefits from complimenting good questions. I will sometimes even make a big deal of thanking the questioner for reminding me of such an important point. If handled well, the compliment will serve to emphasize an important point I want to make. In my experience, compliments also tend to encourage other audience members to ask "good" questions, i.e., ones that will also earn the approbation of the authority figure in front of the room (you).

End strong. Questions all answered? No questions? Either way, whatever you do, don't say something like "Well, I guess that's it" and creep off stage. Reiterate a key point you wanted to make and thank the audience for their attention. 

Part II of our Handling Questions series will appear in the June 1 Training Tips column.


Provide your suggestions and examples in the Comments section below. Biographical information about our Training Tips columnist is available.

Posted by J. Lawson in Training Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)