July 29, 2011
OGE Announces Plan to Upgrade Website
From the OGE mailing list:
New OGE Website Coming Soon!
In late August 2011, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics will unveil a new and improved website, at www.oge.gov. The new site is designed to provide a more friendly user experience for all user groups, including ethics practitioners, executive branch employees, and members of the general public. The site will offer more intuitive navigation, and robust research tools will allow content to be searched by topic, date, and legal citation. You can preview the site by clicking here.
Note: As a result of the redesign, links to the current site (www.usoge.gov) will no longer work once the new site goes live.
July 26, 2011
SEC Ethics Compliance Analyst vacancy (SK 13)
The SEC has a vacancy for a SK-13 Ethics Compliance Analyst. The Compliance Analyst will be responsible for the following:
• Assist in the development, maintenance and revision of policies, procedures and user training materials for the Ethics Program System (EPS)
• Review and respond to employee inquiries on policy, data entry, pre-clearance, disclosure and reporting activities in EPS
• Monitor performance of EPS and related activities on a continuing basis
• Conduct periodic reviews of employee transactions, disclosures and certifications in EPS
• Coordinate automated brokerage feeds; provide data entry of employee holdings, transactions, etc.
• Responsible for day-to-day support for the EPS and work on special projects as needed within the Ethics Office
• Maintain and update user training manual and reference materials
• Support Chief Compliance Officer’s role in contract administration with external vendors
See vaccany annoucement at: http://jobview.usajobs.gov/GetJob.aspx?JobID=101092705&JobTitle=Ethics+Compliance+Analyst&rad_units=miles&brd=3876&pp=25&sort=rv%2c-dtex&jbf574=SE00&jbf785=&vw=b&re=134&FedEmp=N&FedPub=Y&caller=advanced.aspx&AVSDM=2011-07-21+15%3a10%3a00
Closes: Aug. 1, 2011
July 25, 2011
DOJ Official To Defense Bar: Stop Playing Games With Ethics
Without directly referencing the Roger Clemens case, Assistant Attorney General defended federal prosecutors in a recent speech covered by Legal Times:
Some attorneys in the defense bar, Breuer said today, are too eager to call every government mistake an example of prosecutorial misconduct. Breuer did not identify cases and he did not name names.
“Certain defense lawyers nevertheless continue to want to try and turn honest mistakes into instances of misconduct,” Breuer said. “This kind of gamesmanship is unfortunate."
Breuer said the department’s steps to reduce prosecutorial error “go further than what the Supreme Court requires. And they go well beyond what any prior Administration has done. That’s a fact. Do we need to remain vigilant? Absolutely.”
He said DOJ will not shy from taking hard cases “or otherwise shrink from our obligation to investigate and prosecute criminal activity without fear or favor, because of the possibility that an opportunistic defense lawyer will try and make hay out of an honest mistake."
And then Breuer repeated a line that Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has trumpeted in fending off critics: “Our job is not just to win cases, but also to do justice in every case."
July 24, 2011
DOJ Response to AUSA Viewing Pornography at WorkDepartment of Justice response to a Senatorial inquiry concerning an assistant U.S. attorney discovered to have viewed pornography while at the office:
"As a general practice, when there are criminal allegations of misconduct involving an assistant U.S. attorney, those matters are sent to a different office to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. The department took immediate and appropriate action in this case and the AUSA ceased working in the district in late April 2011 and left federal service in early May 2011."
July 22, 2011
Special Counsel Announces Settlement of U.S. Customs Case
The OSC press release concerning this whistleblower reprisal case is available. Here is an excerpt:
In a series of whistleblower disclosures to OSC from 2005 to 2007, Mr. Downey revealed compelling evidence of misconduct, management neglect, and abuses of overtime pay at Blaine Sector. Investigations initiated by OSC of Mr. Downey’s disclosures substantiated many of his allegations.
Mr. Downey also alleged that he was retaliated against after he disclosed the wrongdoing, and OSC’s investigation substantiated his claim. Specifically, OSC found a pattern of illegal retaliation including: retaliatory investigations that led to a proposed decision to fire Mr. Downey; a suspension; an indefinite transfer to another border patrol station; a reprimand; the removal of his supervisory duties; and a failure to promote him despite a favorable recommendation from his supervisor.
Washington Post article on OGE's 2011 Conference
Entitled, "Sun, Spa, Golf & Ethics" the article raises public perception concerns about the location of the OGE conference. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/ethics-on-the-links-in-orlando/2011/07/21/gIQAhk0aSI_print.html
July 21, 2011
News items of interest:
- State Dept. contracting officer under investigation for steering $52M of contracts to her secret husband. See full article from Daily Caller at http://dailycaller.com/2011/07/19/state-dept-contract-officer-steers-52-million-to-secret-husband-daughter/.
- MSPB upholds removal of DHS Senior Special Agent, after he failed to establish whistleblower affirmative defense for (1) unauthorized queries of individuals on an official government computer database; (2) unauthorized disclosure; (3) misuse of position; and (4) lack of candor. See MSPB opinion at http://www.mspb.gov/netsearch/viewdocs.aspx?docnumber=618847&version=620720&application=ACROBAT.
- MSPB dismissal of OSC case to remove an employee for violation of the Hatch Act is upheld. OSC failed to comply with Board rules to state "with particularity any alleged violations of law or regulation, along with the supporting facts." However, OSC may bring a new complaint. See MSPB opinion at http://www.mspb.gov/netsearch/viewdocs.aspx?docnumber=621454&version=623336&application=ACROBAT
July 20, 2011
Newest SOCO Advisory Published
DOD SOCO Advisory 11-03 is now available. The headlines often add interest. For example:
4. NASA Spouse Gets Hubby Job; Herself Convicted
On June 2, 2010, Patricia M. Biondolillo, 50, of Newport News, Va., pleaded guilty to using her position as a NASA Human Resources Specialist (HRS) and Co-op Program Coordinator (CPC) to gain employment for her husband at the Langley Research Center. Biondolillo faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
July 19, 2011
DOJ Closes Investigation of Christine O'Donnell
The Justice Department has closed its investigation of an accusation from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) that former Delaware U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell misspent over $20,000 of campaign funds. She had been accused of using the funds for personal use, including rent payments.
July 18, 2011
DoD Contractor pleads guilty to bribery scheme
Justin W. Lee, 33, former president of Lee Dynamics International, a defense contractor, plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to committ bribery and four counts of bribery. According to court documents, Justin Lee provided things of value, including cash, airline tickets, meals, hotel stays, spa visits and jobs, which were valued at a total of more than $1.2 million, to public officials in return for official acts which helped him obtain lucrative Department of Defense contracts.
See DOJ press release: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/July/11-crm-930.html
August 4th Meeting
At our August 4th meeting we are pleased to present Joseph Vallowe, the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Investigations (Headquarters Operations) for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He will talk about how an Inspector General’s office typically functions and how it interacts with the agency’s ethics office. He will also respond to any questions you may have, including those related to OGE's concurrent referral requirement. Joe will be bringing a unique perspective to this presentation that we have not had before. He formerly served as an ethics official in the VA Office of General Counsel, and then worked in the OIG counsel's office. After that stint, he served as the Director of the OIG Hotline, and as Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Management and Administration, among other duties. Please plan to join us for this meeting.
Our August meeting will be our first to be held at the meeting room of the United States Access Board, at 1331 F Street, N.W. (on the north side of F Street, between 13th and 14th Streets, near the Metro Center station – the meeting room is on the eighth floor) As usual, we will meet from 12:15-1:30.
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 Monday, August 1st. Those who are neither on the IEC roster nor pre-registered can still be admitted by showing a Government ID upon arrival at the building.
Again, for planning purposes, 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.
Posted by PJC | Permalink
National Cancer Institute Ethics Specialist vacancies (promotion potential - GS 13)
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is currently conducting a search for Ethics Specialists (3) to serve in the NCI Ethics Office. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health. The successful candidates will perform a wide range of assignments related to the program’s financial disclosure and other ethics–related services.
These full-time positions are located in Rockville, MD, with an annual salary ranging from $62,467.00 - $97,333.00. The vacancy is open through Friday, July 22nd.
To view the Public Announcements (NIH-NCI-DE-11-481425 open to all U.S. citizens) visit: http://jobview.usajobs.gov/GetJob.aspx?JobID=100947701&JobTitle=Ethics+Program+Specialist&q=ethics&where=bethesda%2c+md&brd=3876&vw=b&FedEmp=Y&FedPub=Y&x=0&y=0&AVSDM=2011-07-18+00%3a03%3a00
To view the Merit Promotion Announcements (NIH-NCI-MP-11-481426 open to current and former Federal Employees) visit: http://jobview.usajobs.gov/GetJob.aspx?JobID=100951587&JobTitle=Ethics+Program+Specialist&q=ethics&where=bethesda%2c+md&brd=3876&vw=b&FedEmp=Y&FedPub=Y&x=0&y=0&pg=1&rad=20&rad_units=miles&re=0&AVSDM=2011-07-18+00%3a03%3a00#qualifications
July 15, 2011
Soliciting Gifts from Outside Sources
The following pithy notice from an agency ethics office to the workforce struck us as being possibly useful to other agencies as well. We have edited it to remove agency-specific information:
Subject: Reminder On Rules Regarding Solicitation of Gifts from Outside Sources
One of the regular topics of instruction in your annual ethics training is the prohibition on receiving gifts as a result of your status as a federal employee. Gifts include any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. The reason for this rule is to avoid any actions violating the law and ethical standards of public trust or creating the appearance of private gain.
There are limited exceptions when a gift may be accepted, guidance for which is found at the agency's ethics website or by contacting GC.
This notice is a reminder of the specific prohibitions on the solicitation of gifts. Employees shall not, directly or indirectly, solicit a gift or other item of monetary value from a prohibited source; or solicit a gift because of an employee's official position. There are no exceptions to this rule.
A prohibited source includes any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by this agency. This includes, for example, our implementing partners, or other think tanks or entities we interact with in our official positions.
It would also be a violation to solicit a gift based upon your status as an employee of this agency. For instance, soliciting complimentary or "comped" tickets for a dinner or reception hosted by an outside organization would be improper. This also applies even if the goal is to ensure or increase agency participation. The substance or merit of the activity is not a consideration.
Where improper gift solicitation occurs, any solicited gifts must be returned to the donor or the recipient must pay the fair market value. Disciplinary action against the employee making the solicitation may be warranted.
Once again, if you have any questions, please seek guidance at the above web sites or by contacting GC for advice.
July 14, 2011
House Committee Hearing Explores Hatch Act Problems
The June 28 edition of the Washington Post's Federal Diary column summarized problems with the Hatch Act explored at a recent hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting. It makes for some interesting reading. The conclusion:
Revisions are on the horizon, and they’ll probably find support from both Republicans and Democrats on a panel often riven by partisanship. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) opened the hearing by saying “inconsistencies within the act and/or loopholes need to be reviewed.” And the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said he looks forward to working with Issa “on bipartisan legislation to update and clarify the Hatch Act.”
July 13, 2011
Former DOJ Lawyer Disbarred Over Conflicts
A BLT (Blog of Legal Times) post describes the debarment of a former Department of Justice lawyer over a conflict of interest related to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. The D.C. Court of Appeals opinion on the matter is available.
July 12, 2011
FBA Legal Ethics CLE Program July 21
The Federal Bar Association, Capitol Hill Chapter, is sponsoring its annual ethics symposium entitled "Government Ethics Funhouse! How Each Branch Approaches Government Ethics." The 2-hour program will be held on July 21, 2011 from 9:30am to 11:30 am at the Montpellier Room, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave, SE, Washington, DC. Here’s a summary of the program:
This lightening-paced, two-hour, ethics CLE symposium in panel “game show” form will have participants simultaneously laughing and sharpening their legal ethics analytical skills. Jack Marshall, of ProEthics, Ltd, will lead three legal ethics experts, Jim Lager from GAO, Eric Riser from DoD, and Robert Deyling from Administrative Office of US Courts, in answering and discussing legal ethics questions, hypotheticals, and dilemmas posed in various diabolical ways involving the audience in competition with the panel. All of the problems discussed will be based on current cases, controversies and events–some of them right up to the minute.
The program flyer has more information:
July 11, 2011
Leading Precedent on Firing An Inspector General
A belated reference to the January decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia concerning the firing of Corporation for National and Community Service IG Walpin is in order, because it provides the best available precedent concering the IG job tenure provisions of the IG Reform Act of 2008.
U.S. v. Stadd, No. 09-3121 (D.C. Cir., March 4, 2011)
FINDLAW posted the decision of the D.C. Circuit on a former NASA employee's appeal of conviction for one count of committing an act affecting a personal financial interest in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 208(a) and 216(a)(2) and two counts of making false statements in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). The discussion is interesting and citations to case law may be of interest. See full opinion at http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-dc-circuit/1557957.html.
July 09, 2011
Contractors Supervising Contractors?
Thanks to the friend who tipped us off to a Government Executive story with the following quote:
Among the problems with contracting, [OMB’s] Zients said, is that too often "it is hard to distinguish who is the contractor and who is the federal employee" and some contractors today are actually managing other contractors, which is "unacceptable…."
July 08, 2011
Innovation on Tap at OGE Conference
OGE's heads-up memo described some innovative programs scheduled for this fall's national OGE conference, including:
Alternative Reality Game
This year we are pilot testing an alternative reality game (ARG) called iSpy, Operation: Ethics Infiltration. The purpose of the game is to bring conference attendees together in fun and competition while enriching their conference experience. The game will give participants opportunities to:
• Expand their professional network.
• Gather and apply knowledge learned at the conference.
• Identify ethics program model practices to take back to agencies.
• Practice facilitating discussions on various ethics topics.
• Learn about alternative training methods such as ARGs.
For those who are not able to attend this year's conference or can’t decide between two sessions occurring at the same time – don't worry. For the first time, OGE will make highlights of some conference sessions available for later viewing over the web.
Mobile Conference Application
In an effort to Go Green, we are very excited to announce that the Conference will have its very own mobile application (APP) and dedicated website. Conference attendees will be able to download the APP and access the website to view information such as the conference agenda, materials, handouts, and contact information for all attendees. Attendees will be able to create their own schedules and view a map of the conference facility. As part of the Go Green initiative, we will be limiting the distribution of paper copies of the agenda and conference materials.
Posted by IEC Team Leader | Permalink
July 07, 2011
Sporting Events as Widely Attended Gatherings
Mark Stone's newsletter recently referenced two pieces of guidance on Executive Branch employees accepting a gift of free attendance at sporting events under the widely attended gathering rule:
- OGE memo entitled “Widely Attended Gatherings” (5 Dec 07)(see pp. 8-9 for discussion of sporting events).
- DoD/GC-SOCO memo entitled “Special Edition: Application of the Widely Attended Gathering (WAG) Gift Exception to Invitations to Play Golf or Attend Sporting, Recreational or Entertainment Events.” (3 Jul 08).
Posted by IEC Team Leader | Permalink
IG investigation into Defense Education Agency Director
The Inspector General for the Department of Defense substantiated multiple charges against the DoD Education Agency's former Director, including violations of the Joint Ethics Regulation and standards of conduct. See Federal Times article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20110630/DEPARTMENTS01/106300306/1049/PERSONNEL and IG redacted report at: http://www.dodig.mil/fo/Foia/PDFs/MilesROIforreleaseRedacted.pdf.
July 06, 2011
MSBP Grants Stay of Firing of Alleged Whistleblower
Here's the opening of a July 6 press release at the OSC website:
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced that her office obtained a July 5 order from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) that stays the firing of federal whistleblower David Butterfield so that OSC may have time to investigate the matter. Agent Butterfield is an air interdiction pilot with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Customs and Border Protection agency in San Diego, California. In 2007, Butterfield disclosed to the agency’s Office of Inspector General that his fourth level supervisor had compromised a potential internal affairs investigation by secretly tipping off Butterfield to the fact that Butterfield was the subject of an ongoing internal affairs investigation. Upon advice of his personal attorney, Butterfield reported his supervisor’s actions to DHS authorities, who in turn investigated the matter.
Ethics News from Congress to the Supreme Court
Ethics News Online has posted three short summaries on the latest hot stories in ethics: a Congressional ethics inquiry into alleged sexual harassment charges against a Representative from Florida; more debate over whether the Supreme Court justices should be required to adhere to the federal judicial code of conduct; and the Florida Commission on Ethics has ended its attempt to collect over $200,000 in fines owed by several public officials for various ethics infractions.
July 05, 2011
Save Money on Official Travel
Wayne Johnson was kind enough to provide a few tips that should be very valuable for those attending the upcoming OGE Conference in Orlando in September and for other government travel situations as well:
Some federal ethics workers travel infrequently and thus may not be aware that some states, such as Florida, exempt federal employees on Temporary Duty (TDY) orders from paying sales/hotel taxes on their hotel rooms.
Travelers on TDY using their government issued “travel card” (or personal credit card if not issued a travel card) to pay their hotel accommodations pay state sales tax even though the federal government will be reimbursing the traveler later UNLESS under the local state’s law there is a tax exemption. This is because the sale is made to the person, not the government, who is personally responsible for paying the “travel card” bill. States do not have to offer this exemption to government travelers nor are hotels required to make the traveler aware of this.
The traveler’s government travel card should not be confused with the GSA SMART CARD IMPACT CREDIT CARD. Holders of the IMPACT card, usually the office’s procurement official, never pay state sales taxes when using the IMPACT card as those charges are billed directly to the U.S. Government and are thus not subject to state sales taxes as a matter of Federal law.
General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) web page provides more information, including links to all 50 states and explanations of their tax policies. GSA also provides information about Florida in particular. Information on Florida law in particular. Copies of the Florida hotel tax exemption form are available at the following websites:
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of Wayne Johnson and are not those of the U.S. Government. They were prepared in his personal capacity and are not to be construed to imply that his agency or the U.S. Government sanctions or endorses what he has written.
July 01, 2011
OGE updates regs for gift reporting
The Office of Government Ethics issued its final rule (technical amendment) increasing the financial disclosure reporting threshold for gifts from $335 to $350, to correspond with the Foreign Gifts & Decorations Act. See 5 CFR 2634.304 and 2634.907(g). The rule is effective July 1, 2011, and retroactive to January 1, 2011. The rule also increases the threshold for exclusion for individual items from $135 to $140. The amendment also increases the gift exception ceiling for non-sponsor gifts of free attendance at widely attended gatherings. See 5 CFR 2635.204(g).
See Fed. Reg. notice at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-07-01/pdf/2011-16642.pdf.
Training Tip 13: Handling Difficult Questions
Many presenters dread the challenge of dealing with hostile or otherwise difficult questions. Some questioners have a personal agenda, or simply enjoy showing up a presenter. I make no claim to being an expert instructor, but with experience, I eventually came to enjoy the challenge of dealing with difficult questioners. My experience convinced me that the presenter who stays calm and remembers a few simple rules can nearly always hold his own, or better, in such encounters.
Approach the task with confidence. Let the audience see you are confident and calm. If you become defensive or argumentative it tends to legitimize the hostile questioner. The audience will tend to side with you if you remain gracious and polite.
Treat even aggressive/hostile questioners respectfully. A response like this will often work wonders: "Thank you for expressing your view [so articulately (if that is true)]. I know that others have come to different conclusions on this issue. I am telling you what has worked for me [or most people, if that is true]."
Give ground when appropriate. If there is some validity to the questioner's position, acknowledge it readily. For example, if someone is complaining about the time needed to compile records for financial disclosure purposes, acknowledge that it can be a burden. Failure to acknowledge the obvious will cause you to look out of touch or unreasonable. However, be firm in defending the ground you can and must defend.
Direct your attention appropriately. Treat the questioner like the most important person in the world while he is speaking, but through body language and eye contact, direct your response to the group as a whole, not the questioner. When I was a prosecutor, I directed most of my effort toward the audience that mattered most--the jury. Many questioners have a chip on their shoulder, and nothing you say will satisfy them. Direct your attention toward the audience that matters.
Prepare for predictable difficult questions. Sometimes you can predict troublesome questions and plan a response. In this situation, it may be attractive to preempt the question by raising it yourself during your presentation. This can take the sting from the issue. Alternatively, you can wait till the question and answer period.
For important presentations, or ones I will be giving multiple times, I sometimes prepare slides to assist in answering the most important questions I anticipate. Wasted effort if no one asks the question? Sure, but when you happen to have just the right slide for just the right question, it can make a palpable impression on an audience. Knowing you have just the right slide in reserve is a big confidence builder as well.
Offer to meet with the questioner after the presentation. This will discourage troublemakers who crave the attention of the audience.
Use a strategic pause. Some presenters have been known to gain a little extra time to compose themselves or prepare to answer a particularly difficult question by getting some water or referring to their notes.
Consider the use of question forms. Finally, the practice of providing "live" answers only to written questions (discussed in Training Tip 10) is a powerful technique for dealing with questioners who have an agenda. You can answer at the public meeting only the questions you want to answer, and reserve questions with an agenda for post-meeting follow-up. Establishing this policy and sticking to it is a powerful way of positioning yourself when hostile questions are expected.
Empathy + Objectivity
My "ultimate weapon" was what I call the Empathy + Objectivity formula. It works like this:
Step 1: Begin your answer by identifying with the questioner's emotional condition. "It is only natural that anyone in your position would feel that way ..."
Step 2: Conclude your answer by providing an objective assessment of the situation.
For example, assume that someone in the audience attacks the requirement to file financial disclosure forms as an unwarranted intrusion into privacy. You might respond something like this:
I understand why people might feel that way. However, Congress created the Office of Government Ethics to establish a uniform approach, and this is what OGE came up with. It's a known condition of government employment, and if we want to work for the Executive Branch, we have to deal with it.
Corrected July 5: Replaced missing word "always" in first para.