September 30, 2011
GAO: IGs Have Very High Return on Investment
POGO discusses a new Government Accountability Office report on Inspectors General:
The federal government's 62 Inspectors General (IGs) are putting your tax dollars to good use, returning about $18 for every dollar investment, according to a new report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
As part of the Dodd-Frank Act--legislation enacted in response to the 2008 financial meltdown--Congress required the GAO to report on the relative independence and efficiency of federal IGs. The result is a report released last week which shows that IGs save taxpayers billions of dollars, and provides hard evidence that the Dodd-Frank Act has increased their independence.
In the 2009 fiscal year, the IGs had an allotted budget of about $2.3 billion, but reported potential savings of about $43.3 billion. The IGs were also responsible for 5,900 actions against criminals, 1,100 civil actions, 4,460 suspensions and debarments and 6,100 indictments as a result of their work, according to the report.
Proposed OGE changes to Qualified Trust regs
The Office of Government Ethics proposes to amend the executive branch regulation regarding qualified trusts. The proposed amendments would make a few minor substantive changes, but would primarily put the regulation in a more logical order, make it more readable, and eliminate redundant provisions. See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-09-30/pdf/2011-25221.pdf
September 29, 2011
Discussion on OGE proposal to expand Lobbying Gift Ban to all Federal Employees
Washington Post article discussing the proposed OGE rule to expand lobbying gift ban to all Federal employees. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/limits-tighten-for-lobbyist-gift-giving/2011/09/28/gIQAh6RT5K_story.html
Washington Times: Retired Officers to be Cleared of Allegations
The Washington Times reports:
A three-year government investigation has found no wrongdoing by Bush-era Pentagon officials when they gave war briefings to retired military analysts who served as TV and radio commentators.
The probe by the Pentagon inspector general was in response to a 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning article in the New York Times that implied the former military officers, some of whom worked for or were defense contractors, received financial favors in return for their commentary and were tools in a propaganda campaign.
Sources familiar with the IG’s final report said it will say officials broke no rules or laws when they provided information briefings, some from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
OGE Leadership Resources
Since everyone seriously interested in ethics issues should subscribe to OGE's mailing list, to avoid duplication we usually avoid reposting OGE mailing list items here. However, the following item seemed particularly valuable, so we'll republish it here, in the interest of providing another place for researchers to locate it:
A Reminder of Resources Available to Ethics Officials - Leadership Involvement
Are you looking for new ways to involve leadership in the ethics program?
One agency increased the number of reports timely filed by having filer’s submit their reports directly to their Director’s office. Another agency included leadership in the process to identify annual training content. Read more about these practices HERE.
Another resource available is the Leadership Initiative which contains more than 50 concrete actions leadership can take to promote an ethical culture and to show support of your ethics program. Lastly, you may find ideas in the leadership section of the Final Report issued for the Cabinet-Level Benchmarking project last year.
September 28, 2011
New DOD SOCO Advisory Published
SOCO Advisory 11-04 is available. The topics include:
1. Hatch Act Guidance for Civilian Employees
2. 2011 National Emergency Extended by President
3. Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure update
4. Combined Federal Campaign
September 27, 2011
More on the Mythical $16 Muffin
A colleague pointed out yesterday that the sensational headlines concerning the Department of Justice allegedly paying $16 for muffins at a 2009 Washington legal conference were apparently misleading. The Associated Press, Talking Points Memo and others have reached a similar conclusion. Writing for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum has a good explanation.
The initial erroneous reporting on this matter is reminiscent of the drive-by journalism attack on the Office of Government Ethics 2011 conference in Orlando. Bashing government is a time-honored journalistic tradition, and we would be the last to discourage it. However, it's a good idea to make sure you get the facts right.
September 26, 2011
New Turn in $16 Muffin Story
Government Executive reports that Hilton Worldwide, the company that apparently charged DOJ conference attendees $16 per muffin at a 2009 event, stated that the DOJ IG auditors misinterpreted the invoices for that conference. The quoted price, Hilton says, included not only baked goods, but juice, coffee, soft drinks, tax and tips.
POGO on SEC Conflict of Interest Allegations
POGO has a summary of the conflict of interest allegations against Former SEC General Counsel David Becker. Here's an excerpt:
This isn’t the first time the OIG has cited SEC employees for misconduct in cases where the employees received advice from the Ethics Office. For instance, in its report on alleged insider trading by SEC employees —which was also referred to the Justice Department —the OIG reported that the employees sought approval from the Ethics Office for most of the trades that later aroused suspicion.
This also isn’t a problem that’s unique to the SEC. POGO has highlighted several instances in which it appears that ethics officials at the Bureau of Land Management did not take appropriate action or provide knowledgeable advice when confronted with revolving door and conflict-of-interest issues.
We’re glad to see that the SEC has recently taken measures to improve its ethics program. At last week’s National Government Ethics Conference , SEC officials highlighted the release of an online searchable ethics handbook , the agency-wide ethics emails that are now being distributed twice a week , and a new online, real-time database in which SEC staff are required to report their financial holdings and pre-clear securities transactions. The OIG also recommended that the SEC Ethics Counsel should report directly to the Chairman rather than the General Counsel, and that the SEC Ethics Office should take all necessary steps to ensure that its advice is “well-reasoned, complete, objective, and consistent” and “documented in an appropriate and consistent manner.”
Along these lines, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently recommended that the SEC Chairman “establish standards for documentation of ethics advice.” We made a similar recommendation in our report on the SEC revolving door.
E-Filing Roadmap & Planning Workbook Update
Update Oct. 14: Mr. Hancock advises us that the Farm Credit Administration should now be included in the list of eFiling programs:
The updated Roadmap & Planning Workbook: Electronically File (eFile) & Manage Financial Disclosure Reports (FDRs) is now available.
Updated for OGE's 18th National Government Ethics Conference, this workbook helps action officers considering eFiling get started and organized. It includes a suggested requirements list as well as summaries of current eFiling programs used in these agencies:
- DoJ/Executive Office for United States Attorneys
- National Technical Information Service (NTIS), US Department of Commerce
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- National Science Foundation
Thanks to George Hancock, IEC e-Filing Workgroup Chair, for the tip.
September 23, 2011
Brainstorming Ethics Implications of Budget Cuts
An August OMB memo directed federal agencies to plan forr 2013 budgets that at least 5 percent below 2011 spending levels. The goal for 2013 budget is at least 10 percent below current appropriations.
What impact will this budget trend have on ethics programs? Coping with smaller budgets is one obvious impact. Will it also impact the types of ethics problems we see?
We welcome your thoughts on these issues, and have enabled the Comments feature on this post. We look forward to hearing from you.
September 22, 2011
No more gifts from Lobbyists?
In a September 18, 2011, posting, we alerted you to the proposed OGE expansion of the Ethics Pledge lobbyist gift ban to all career Federal employees. If you did not see it, please note that the proposed rule was published in the Federal Register for notice and comment. See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-09-13/pdf/2011-23311.pdf. Comments are due before November 14, 2011.
In sum, the proposed rule would make certain exceptions to the general prohibition on gifts from outside sources, 5 CFR 2635.202, unavailable for gifts from registered lobbyists. The exceptions that would be unavailable would include the $20 deminimus & widely-attended gathering exceptions. It would also provide implementing guidance. For example, it defines the lobbysts for these purposes to exclude 501(c)(3) non-profit lobbyists.
White House orders agencies to review policies on conferences
The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General just released an audit report which assessed the Department's expenditures related to conferences. The report reviewed a sampling of conferences held by the Department between October 2007 and September 2009, showing excessive spending on conferences food and beverage items, such as $16 for a muffin. See report: http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/plus/a1143.pdf. See also the Washington Post article on the same: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-16-muffin-justice-dept-audit-finds-wasteful-and-extravagant-spending/2011/09/20/gIQAXKyhiK_story.html.
In response to the audit report, OMB issued a directive for all agencies to review policies related to conferences, to try to eliminate excessive spending and promote efficiencies in conferences. See http://www.govexec.com/pdfs/092111ts1.pdf.
Ethics related news
Here are some news item with ethics related topics:
- DOJ Press release on Former Army Corps of Engineer pleading guilty to accepting bribes on Iraqi contracts. See http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/September/11-crm-1207.html
- SOCO Advisory 11-04 is available in the Ethics Resource Library at: http://www.dod.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/2011_Advisories/advisory_1104.htm. Topics include: 1. Hatch Act Guidance for Civilian Employees; 2. 2011 National Emergency Extended by President; 3. Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure update; & 4. Combined Federal Campaign.
September 21, 2011
October 6th Meeting
At our October 6th meeting we are pleased to present, Ray Sheehan, our long-time Federal ethics colleague, who will discuss the history of the conflict of interest statutes. Ray is always an outstanding speaker -- both informative and entertaining. You won't want to miss this meeting! Immediately following Ray's presentation there will be a brief discussion of possible IEC programs for next year. You are encouraged to stay and participate in this discussion. Remember, the IEC is only as good as its members make it!
We will meet at the U. S. Access Board, 1331 F Street, N.W. (on the north side of F Street, between 13th and 14th Streets, near the Metro Center station) from 12:15 - 1:30. As always, individuals who are on the IEC roster need not pre-register. 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, October 3rd.
We also wish to take this opportunity to extend our congratulations and appreciation to OGE on the success of the 18th National Government Ethics Conference, earlier this month. The overwhelming consensus is that this was the best conference yet. The effort that our OGE colleagues, and everyone else involved, expended on this event was obvious to all and is sincerely appreciated.
Training With an iPad?
Love your iPad? Ever thought about using it for training?
A Law Technology News article explains how one law firm used an iPad in a high profile personal injury case. Of course, the same persuasive educational techniques will work just as well with an ethics training audience:
In view of our focus, and the challenges the case presented, we decided to take an entirely different approach — and turn to an Apple iPad for our trial evidence presentation. We would still use a couple of documents blown-up on foam boards, for effect — but we didn't use TrialDirector or bring in an independent IT professional. Everything was managed directly from counsel table with minimal hardware and technology.
A related podcast is available.
September 20, 2011
More SEC Developments
- Bloomberg: SEC IG refers SEC Ex-Counsel conflict of interest allegations to Department of Justice.
- POGO has questions about the circumstances under which an SEC case was dropped.
MSPB: Perceptions of prohibited personnel actions hit 18-year low -- GovExec.com
A Merit Systems Protection Board study, released Wednesday, found that federal workers reported that they observed or experienced the 12 prohibited personnel practices less frequently than at any point during the last 18 years. In a survey of more than 42,000 employees, 8 percent said they had been affected by one prohibited practice, while 1.3 percent said they had experienced more than three.
Perceptions of discrimination based on age, race, disability and other factors have steadily declined since 1992, the report found. Experiences of coercion related to political activity were slightly more common than 18 years ago but still were rare at just 0.7 percent. Nearly 7 percent of employees reported perceptions that management had granted an unfair advantage during the recruitment or promotion process, higher than other practices studied but lower than in previous years.
September 19, 2011
Criminal Referral in Madoff Case?
Here's an excerpt from a September 16 New York Times story, perhaps related to our previous post:
Federal ethics officials are expected to recommend that the Justice Department begin a criminal investigation into actions taken by David M. Becker, the former general counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who determined the agency’s proposal for compensating victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme when he had a financial interest in the outcome.
A possible criminal referral from the Office of Government Ethics is expected to be part of a report issued next week by H. David Kotz, the inspector general of the S.E.C., according to two people briefed on the report’s contents.
SEC IG Criticized
The Washington Post reports on criticism of the SEC Inspector General by a former Chair of the SEC:
Without using his name, Pitt said Inspector General H. David Kotz has taken an “unprincipled approach” in criticizing “hard-working, well-intending” SEC employees.
Pitt’s accusations come as Kotz is preparing to issue a series of reports on sensitive SEC issues. One involves allegations that the SEC’s enforcement division pulled punches in a Wall Street probe. Another involves allegations that the agency glossed over a conflict of interest in its work on compensation for victims of Bernard Madoff’s investment fraud.
Pitt is representing a former SEC official for free in the ongoing Madoff-related probe.
The following comment represents the view of an experienced IG lawyer (not with the SEC). He does not purport to represent the views of the Interagency Ethics Counsel, but proffers the observation for whatever relevance it might have:
We are not aware of all the details of the SEC situation, but this is somewhat reminiscent of warnings from a 1996 article from "The Journal of Public Inquiry." Derek Vander Schaff, a distinguished longtime IG official, noted that when IGs criticize senior officials, they have to be ready for counterattacks, sometimes of a "political" (lowercase "p") nature:
Edited April 18, 2012 to add attribution.
September 18, 2011
OGE Conference Thoughts (Open Thread)
A rew reactions to the 2011 OGE Conference:
- Excellent overall organization, with many thoughtful touches to enhance the learning experience. OGE deserves credit for being willing to experiment with something as innovative as the smartphone app, though there were a few glitches. Some felt that the related website was a less than optimal solution for those without smartphones, while not everyone with a smartphone was enamoured with the app.
- There are a lot of smart people throughout the government doing a lot of smart things. The conference provides a great start on improving efficiency through inter-agency sharing, but resource limitations and institutional constraints put a limit on what OGE can do. There is more that the IEC, and this website in particular could do to fill the gaps.
We have enabled the Comments function to allow others to share their impressions.
OGE Proposes to Expand Lobbyist Gift Ban
The Hill reports:
A new regulation proposed this week by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) would prohibit all federal government employees from accepting any gifts from lobbyists.
Originally, the absolute ban on lobbyist gifts was only applied to political appointees, per President Obama’s executive order on ethics that was signed early on in his administration. But if the proposed rule is finalized, it would expand the order’s tough restrictions on lobbyist gifts to career employees in the federal government as well.
The regulation also would codify the stringent lobbyist gift ban implemented by Obama’s executive order, meaning the strict limits on the interaction between lobbyists and the Obama administration would stay in place after Obama leaves the White House, unless Congress repeals them or the next president initiates another rule-making procedure to amend the regulation. “What this means is that these broader restrictions will go beyond the Obama administration. They will exist even after he leaves office,” Kenneth Gross, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, told The Hill.
Thanks to the IEC member who provided this tip.
September 17, 2011
Sen. Kerry Gets Ethics Kudos for Vowing to Avoid Lobbyists While on Supercommittee
The Boston Globe reported yesterday that Senator John Kerry (D-MA) stated he will not fundraise while serving on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, commonly known as the 'supercommittee.' The committee's 12 members have been tasked to come up with a plan by Thanksgiving to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget deficit. This makes committee members major targets for individual and organizational lobbyists. Sen. Kerry is quoted as telling the Boston Globe, "I will not fundraise...I'm not raising any money while the committee is working." The Senator has been widely praised by ethics groups for taking this position.
Posted by IEC Team 3 | Permalink
September 16, 2011
Podcasts as Educational Tools
Following up on Jerry Lawson's September 1 Training Tips column, "Mobile Learning," here are two related podcasts explaining how to be a skilled consumer of this new source of information:
September 14, 2011
Tips on Handling Questions
A collection of four of Jerry Lawson's Training Tips columns on the subject of handling audience questions is available for downloading:
These columns have been upgraded and reformatted for use as handouts at today's OGE Conference session Do's and Don'ts for New Trainers (and Not-So-New). The electronic version contains hypertext links to various resources.
September 13, 2011
Reminder: Support for OGC Conference
- Would you like to keep the conversation going after the conference? We can help. We can post a conversation starter entry here and enable comments. It's an easy way to keep the conversation going, at no cost to you.
- Does your slide show have animations or speaker notes that won't be visible through the static PDF reproductions available through the OGE site?
- Would you prefer to give your audiences better options for reprinting your handouts (like easy multiple slides per page) rather than one slide per page?
- Did you complete your handouts for the 2011 OGE conference too late for distribution through the OGE website?
We are glad to help in any of these ways. Contact us by e-mail or catch up with one of our reporters at the conference (e-mail address & list of reporters in sidebar at left).
September 12, 2011
Do's and Don'ts for New Trainers (And Not-So-New)
An updated version of the slide show for the Ford/Lawson presentation at the OGE Conference Wednesday afternoon is available:
This version contains some upgrades over the static PDF version at the conference website. It also contains speaker notes for many pages, and the animations are visible.
This version does not contain the two case studies, Risky Business and The Cupcake Caper. They will be distributed later.
September 11, 2011
Accessing IEC Journal Updates
Due to IEC member turnover, we get some questions repeatedly. Here is a perennial, with an updated answer:
Q: How do I sign up for IEC Journal?
A: Lots of ways. Here are a few of the more popular:
- We’re on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#%21/iecjournal
- As smartphones become increasingly popular, RSS apps for iPhone and Droid are becoming a major alternative. Here is the IEC Journal RSS feed.
- Many people like RSS-to-email services like FeedBlitz, though in my experience the message formatting leaves something to be desired.
- If monitoring multiple RSS feeds, there is a lot to like about Google Reader, including the fact that you can access it through any web browser. The downside: Unlike most of the other alternatives mentioned here, it doesn't send out updates automatically. The MS Internet Explorer browser has similar advantages and disadvantages. I find it works pretty well, except for not "pushing" updates. Updates don't come to you automatically. You have to load the RSS reader function, then "refresh" to get the latest updates.
- Some people like Google Alerts.
- Federal agency security policies prevent many IEC members from installing new software on their office computers. However, you can use software that is already installed on your office computer to read the IEC Journal RSS feed. At least since 2007, Outlook, Microsoft’s flagship e-mail program contains a serviceable built-in RSS reader.
You can ask your tech support staff for help in setting this up, but take-charge types will prefer to do it themselves. A quick search on your favorite search engine for a phrase like "RSS Outlook 2007" will usually find instructions quickly.
For example, here is how to set up RSS feeds in Outlook 2010:
The RSS icon appears in the menu bar at left, like a regular mail folder. To set it up, right click on the RSS Feeds folder label. Then select “Add an RSS feed.” When the dialog box appears, paste the URL (Internet address) of the RSS feed. The RSS feed will appear in Outlook as if it were a series of e-mail messages.
Want to add another RSS feed? Repeat the process.
If you want to import RSS feeds from a different RSS reader program, export them as an OPML file. Then right click the RSS Feeds folder again and select the option “Import an OPML file.”
People who like MS Outlook should find this option highly attractive. I find that the better format makes it far preferable to receiving e-mails from a service like Feedblitz.
September 10, 2011
Planning Website Upgrades: OSC & Beyond
The OSC website should be a key resource for all potential and current federal whistleblowers, and should promote and demonstrate transparency, openness, and accountability. Further, it must be dynamic, easily navigable, straightforward, well-organized and aesthetically helpful in directing people to information quickly. But it falls short in many of these areas.
Recurring themes of functionality issues included out-of-date information, difficult navigation, an absence of document organization and transparency, and a lack of social media presence.
The Office of Special Counsel is a unique agency, but many agency ethics websites could benefit by the application of similar rules.
September 09, 2011
FEMA's "Ice Cream Social": Fiscal Law Aspect
POGO disagrees with a FEMA decision to hold an “ice cream social” (i.e., to serve refreshments at a ceremony recognizing employees for superior work):
Such ceremonies allow for food to be served and food gifts to be provided to a distinguished employee, and therefore someone at FEMA thinks that it’s okay to use the on-the-spot award to throw an ice cream social for the office. I can only hope that someone in the financial or audit offices get the scoop on this story and terminates it before taxpayers are left holding the bill and a melted ice cream cone.
We don’t know the details of FEMA’s plans, but for what it’s worth, we note that the type of practice described appears to be in accordance with the Government Employees Incentive Awards Act, 5 U.S.C. 4501 - 4506, as interpreted by the Government Accountability Office in opinions including 65 Comp. Gen. 738 (1986). GAO’s treatise Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, 3rd Edition explains the rule at pages 4-116 through 4-118, including the observation that “[T]he agency would be within its legitimate discretion to determine that refreshments would materially enhance the effectiveness of a ceremonial function, specifically in this case an awards ceremony which is a valid component of the agency’s statutorily authorized awards program.”
In other words, it appears to be perfectly legal. The response from some critics who are determined to bash the government would be that “just because something is legal does not make it right.” No doubt that general proposition is true, but its applicability here is in doubt. Private businesses routinely engage in similar practices. They are making a business judgment that this is good for their bottom line. As GAO has concluded, there’s no reason federal government managers should not have the same discretion.
September 08, 2011
OGE Website Upgrade
Here are some preliminary impressions of the recent Office of Government Ethics website improvements. The improved appearance & shorter URL (oge.gov vs. usoge.gov; latter will “redirect” for a time) are superficial but very welcome.
The more substantive improvements include:
1. A complete rethinking of the site structure, leading to improved navigation. This is probably the most important upgrade.
You can use RSS feeds with more recent versions of MS Internet Explorer or MS Outlook, but many will prefer alternatives like Google Reader. If you have been wondering whether to adopt RSS, this could be the tipping point. It is a powerful tool.
Like a new house, the new website will need a few tweaks here and there. One item for the punchlist: When clicking on links on the page with information about previous OGE conferences, attempting to access archived information results in an error message.
Bottom Line: A giant upgrade over previous OGE Web efforts.
Scientist pleads guilty to attempted espinoage
Stewart David Nozette, a scientist who once worked for the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the White House’s National Space Council, pleaded guilty today to attempted espionage for providing classified information to a person he believed to be an Israeli intelligence officer. See full Justice press release at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/September/11-nsd-1142.html.
September 07, 2011
Determining Who Should File SF 450
Think maybe you are requiring too many people to file SF 450 forms? Not enough?
One place to seek help is the analytical aid OGE released in 2009.
Update: With today's upgrade of the OGE website, the material is at a different URL. Thanks to Patrick Sheperd for the tip.
September 06, 2011
Two Federal Employees Disciplined for Political Activity
An Office of Special Counsel press release reports on two employees who were disciplined for prohibited political activity.
In one case an NIH employee was fired for soliciting political contributions and inviting 63 people, including other NIH employees, to a political fundraiser at her home in Bowie, Maryland. The administrative law judge explained that the
[T]he intent of the Hatch Act is to ensure that federal employees may exercise their right to participate or to refrain from participating in the political processes of the Nation. This right is inhibited if other employees in the federal workforce solicit campaign contributions through the agency’s e‐mail system or make political contributions using government computers while on duty [or] on government property.
The other case involved a New Jersey state employee who worked on federally funded contracts. He agreed to retire and was barred from employment with any state or local agency within the State of New Jersey for 15 months.
September 05, 2011
Issues Concerning Document Destruction At SEC
A Washington Post story suggests that the SEC's recent destruction of preliminary investigation records is contrary to the prevailing practice at other federal agencies.
POGO commented on a disturbing aspect of the SEC situation, the apparent attempts to demonize and discredit the whistleblowers who brought the problem to light. POGO concludes: "This time around, we hope the SEC will focus all of its attention on assisting the OIG with its investigation and taking whatever corrective action is needed, rather than trying to discredit the whistleblower who brought these allegations to light."
September 04, 2011
Ethics Waivers at HHS
An alert IEC member tipped us off to an interesting August 2011 Office of Inspector General report on conflicts of interest waivers granted at HHS in 2009.
Among the report's findings: "Fifty-six percent of the 50 HHS conflict-of-interest waivers in our review were not documented as recommended in provisions of selected Governmentwide Federal ethics regulations and the Secretary's instructions."
IEC Journal relies heavily on user contributions, and we appreciate your contributions.
September 03, 2011
Sentencing Disparity in Abramoff Case?
Talking Points Memo argues that a sentence of 17 to 22 years for Abramoff associate Kevin Ring is too harsh, since Abramoff received only a 3 1/2 year sentence, and others involved received much lighter sentences.
September 02, 2011
OSC Argues MSPB Decision in Air Marshal Case May Silence Whistleblowers
Federal Times posted an article addressing a 2009 Merit Systems Protection Board case that effectively upheld the firing of an air marshal who spoke to the media about his agency’s plan to cut air marshal cross-country trips, despite, in his opinion, a great risk to the public in light of post-9/11 dangers. He argued that the Transportation Security Administration improperly labeled the information he shared as SSI (sensitive but not classified) and did so retroactively after he was fired. The MSPB determined the information was properly designated as SSI and declined to review the case. The Office of Special Counsel recently opined that the MSPB improperly expanded a narrow exception to whistle-blower protection rules when it upheld the air marshal’s firing. In its argument to the MSPB, OSC states that when Congress spelled out what revelations would be excepted from whistle-blower protections, it specifically did not include rules and regulations of the kind the air marshal revealed. Because the information he revealed was not specifically prohibited by the Civil Service Reform Act, OSC argues that TSA committed a prohibited personnel practice by firing him.
September 01, 2011
Training Tip 15: Mobile Learning Options
Fueled by the widespread adoption of smartphones, iPods and similar devices, Mobile Learning, aka MLearning, has become a major educational trend. Such training is frequently delivered in the form of "MP3" files, delivered through a mechanism knownn as "podcasts." While Apple iPods are wonderful devices and seem ubiquitous, it's important to note that nearly any smartphone (iPhone, Droid, etc.) or personal computer can also play podcasts with the help of earphones or speakers. The USA.gov web site has a section explaining podcasts.
Many organizations are taking advantage of this new training vehicle. For example, the Legal Talk Network distributes podcasts of interest to lawyers, and legal technology guru Dennis Kennedy has an article about the value of listening to podcasts. Previous IEC Journal posts have provided examples of the successful use of MP3 files or podcasts by other respected organizations:
- American Bar Association
- Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
- Government Accountability Office
- Project for Government Oversight (POGO)
The latest POGO example is a lecture by the Office of Special Counsel's (OSC) Adam Miles, who reviews OSC's interaction with federal whistleblowers. This training was originally part of a series POGO provides to educate congressional staffers. Other podcasts from the same series are available.
The Office of Government Ethics has also at least put its toe into the water, having prepared a podcast of "the Senate-confirmed nominations process and video clips that provide scenarios for discussion during training sessions on ethics restrictions on seeking employment."
We see the biggest value of podcasts as a low-cost, low-hassle supplement to the rest of your ethics program, including a way of reaching certain "high value targets" like senior managers, many of whom are into multi-tasking. With so many prestigious organizations using them successfully for other training, this appears to be an area with enormous untapped potential for ethics trainers.
In a future column, we will share nuts and bolts information on creating podcasts to make it easier for those inclined to explore this exciting new training option. In the meantime, we encourage any federal ethics trainers already using it to share with the IEC Journal any products we can distribute to other agencies.