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March 31, 2012

Removal for misuse of Govt Credit Card sustained

In a non-precedential decision, the Federal Circuit sustained the MSPB's decision sustaining removal for misconduct--misuse of a govt credit card.  The case, which included remand for procedural issues, includes creative arguments from pro se appellant about not receiving sufficient training on use of the card.  See full decision at: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/11-3229.pdf 

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

March 30, 2012

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ethics vacancies (attorney and PM)

Would you like to work in a groundbreaking organization solely devoted to the economic strength and vitality of American consumers?  Would you like to help build a 21st Century federal agency where service, leadership and innovation are prized?  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has extended the deadline for applications for our Ethics Attorney position.  The application period is now closing on Tuesday, April 10.  The Ethics Office at CFPB enjoys a fast-paced, collegial team environment in which to practice federal ethics law, as well as extremely competitive compensation and benefits.  For position details and application instructions, see the job posting on USAJOBS.  (Note: Anyone who already submitted an application for this position in response to the March 7 IEC posting need not reapply).

ATTORNEY - See USAJobs Announcement 12-CFPB-330X at http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/312874700

In addition, CFPB has posted a vacancy announcement for an Ethics Program Manager which will also close on Tuesday, April 10.  For details and application instructions, see the job posting on USAJOBS.

PROGRAM MANAGER - See USAJobs Announcement 12-CFPB-331 at http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/312874900  

Additional information about CFPB can be found on our website at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/jobs/


Posted by Account Deleted in Help Wanted | Permalink

Four Navy officials plead guilty to wide-raging scheme of fraud and corruption

Justice reports:

As part of the conspiracy, defense contractors provided Navy officials with over one million dollars in personal benefits, including cash, checks, retail gift cards, flat screen television sets, luxury massage chairs, home furniture and appliances, bicycles costing thousands of dollars, model airplanes, and home remodeling services. In return, the Navy officials placed millions of dollars in fraudulent orders with the defense contractors.

See DOJ Press Release at: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cas/press/2012/cas12-0328-Vangundy.pdf; see also Washington Post article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/navy-officials-contractors-plead-guilty-to-fraud-involving-1-million-in-bribes-in-calif/2012/03/28/gIQAfcQwgS_story.html.

Posted by Account Deleted in News | Permalink

March 29, 2012

Army OGC (Ethics & Fiscal) vacancy (GS 14/15)

There is a vacancy for a senior attorney in the Army Headquarters, Office of General Counsel for Ethics and Fiscal.  Vancacy announcement no. NEHT12692793.  Closes: April 6, 2012.  See full announcement at http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/311148700.

Posted by Account Deleted in Help Wanted | Permalink

The True Cost of Conflict of Interest

The private-sector-focused Business Ethics Blog recently published an nteresting article about the real cost of conflicts of interests that has implications for the public sector.  In particular, the author questions whether contractors who give gifts are intentionally causing others to violate their conflict of interest duties and encouraging people to violate the Standards of Conduct. Food for thought.

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Issues: Contractors in the Workplace, Miscellaneous | Permalink

March 28, 2012

Study Finds Most State Ethics Laws Lack "Teeth"

A CNN.com report discusses a recent study done by the Global Integrity nonprofit group, Public Radio International and Center for Public Integrity of state ethics laws.  The study found that, across the board, state ethics, open records and disclosure laws lack "teeth" to better enforce the rules.  States were given grades based on an assessment of corruption risk indicators.  New Jersey ranked top with a B+ and Georgia came in last with low scores in transparency and accountability. 

Posted by IEC Team 3 in News | Permalink

March 27, 2012

Leaks at NLRB?

A National Labor Relations Board Office of Inspector General report alleges a key NLRB employee improperly leaked information. Talking Points Memo summarizes:

The IG report found that Flynn “knew, or should have know, that he had a duty to maintain the confidence of the information that he received in the performance of his official duties.” It also criticized him for a lack of candor about the messages after the IG probe began.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Miscellaneous | Permalink

Legislators File Pro-Whistleblower Brief

The Government Accountabililty Project reports that three Members of Congress who long have been champions of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), have filed a "friend of the court" or amicus curiae brief filed in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Federal Air Marshals (FAM) whistleblower Robert MacLean.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Whistleblowers | Permalink

OSC Hatch Act press release

Two employees of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently served suspensions for sending partisan political e-mails while on duty and in the federal workplace.  See full press release at http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2012/pr12_08ha.pdf

Posted by Account Deleted in News, OSC | Permalink

March 26, 2012

DHS Program Analyst vacancy (GS 12/13)

The Department of Homeland Security Office of General Counsel Ethics Division has posted an announcement for a GS12/13 Program Analyst.  The position will primarily involve the administration of the Headquarters financial disclosure program, but will also include other programmatic responsibilities, including supporting ethics orientation training.  The Program Analyst will work with both headquarters financial disclosure filers, including committee member filers and political appointees, and with ethics officials in the DHS components.  Detailed information about the position and how to apply can be found here:   https://my.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/311961800

Vacancy No: DHSHQ12-618525-GC

Closes: April 02, 2012.

Posted by Account Deleted in Help Wanted | Permalink

McCaskill Proposes IG for Senate

The Congressional decision to add several new Inspectors General in recent years shows that Congress has confidence in the Inspector General concept. The newest proposed addition to governent entities with IGs? The Senate.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Inspectors General | Permalink

Ethics Articles from Fraud Facts Newsletter

The Spring 2012 Edition of Fraud Facts, an Air Force publication, has a couple of articles about ethics:

Workplace Ethics in Transition provides study results showing that there are currently "historically low levels of current misconduct in the American workplace and record high levels of employee reporting.  The percentage of employees who witnessed misconduct at work fell to a new low of 45 percent. That compares to 49 percent in 2009 and is well down from the record high of 55 percent in 2007.  Those who reported the bad behavior they saw reached a record high of 65 percent, up from 63" Unfortunately, the article contends that "As the economy gets better – and companies and employees become more optimistic about their financial futures – it seems likely that misconduct will rise and reporting will drop, mirroring the growth in pressure and retaliation that have already taken place and conforming to historic patterns." The article also purports to link social networking in the workplace with more ethical problems.

Leading by Example: Implementing a Values-Based Ethics Program at DoD explains DoD efforts to focus on values, rather than rules, arguing: Regulations can’t address every situation an employee faces, so a set of guiding principles are needed to help address the circumstances when the rules aren’t clear. This is the fundamental argument for a values-based ethics program. Best-in-class values-based ethics programs have several distinct features. They are based on a set of core values that are not only communicated from the top down, but they are integrated into everyday decisions throughout the organization. Best-in-class programs also train all employees on ethical decision-making every year. They focus on building an ethical culture where employees are encouraged to raise concerns, and they are rewarded for upholding standards of integrity.

Issues of Fraud Facts, including the most current, are available through a link on the right side of an Air Force website:

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Miscellaneous, News | Permalink

Aspen Institute Commission to Reform Appointment Process - White Paper

GovExec reports on the Aspen Institute-Rockefeller Foundation Commission to Reform the Federal Appointments Process white paper.  In this paper, the Commission recommends the House pass the Presidential Appointment & Efficiency & Streamlining Act, which was passed by the Senate in June 2011.  The report also says: "The nominees ... must navigate an archaic, unnecessarily burdensome and time-consuming background information process during their vetting and consideration for confirmation."  Read full article at: http://www.govexec.com/management/2012/03/panel-suggests-tighter-timeline-presidential-appointments/41558/

See The Presidential Appointment & Efficiency & Streamlining Act (S. 679) at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112s679rs/pdf/BILLS-112s679rs.pdf.

Posted by Account Deleted in News | Permalink

March 23, 2012

DARPA Chief to Google

Wired Magazine's Danger Room has multiple articles about the departure of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) chief Regina Dugan for Google.

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

March 22, 2012

STOCK Act passes Senate and heads to President

POLITICO reports (3/22/12 2:03pm):

After weeks of delays, the Senate on Thursday sent a bill banning congressional insider trading to President Barack Obama for his expected signature.

The Senate voted 96 to 3 to pass a watered-down STOCK Act, which would bar members of Congress, their staff and some federal workers from profiting from non-public information obtained through their jobs.


Posted by Account Deleted in Electronic Filing, Issues: Financial Disclosure, News, OGE | Permalink

OSC Caseload Increasing

OSC head Carolyn Lerner told the Senate her budget is flat but her caseload is rising:

  • OSC expects its overall caseload in fiscal 2012 will be 10 percent higher than last year.
  • Waste, fraud and abuse whistleblower disclosures will likely be 32 percent higher this year than in fiscal 2011.
  • OSC expects to see a 6 percent increase in prohibited personnel practice cases this year. In fiscal 2011, OSC received 2,583 cases, which itself was a record.
  • Overall filings have jumped 30 percent over the last three years.

Via Federal Times.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OSC, Whistleblowers | Permalink

April 5th Meeting - Hatch Act

At our April 5th meeting we are pleased to host Erica Hambrick, of the Office of Special Counsel's Hatch Act Unit, who will address the latest updates on political activities by Federal employees under that Hatch Act.  In what promises to be a very active election year, Erica's presentation will be both timely and valuable, so if providing advice on this topic falls within your charter, you'll certainly want to attend or send one of your ethics office colleagues to our April meeting.

As usual, 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 for this meeting.  Ethics officials who are not on our roster but who wish to attend can pre-register by contacting Danielle Barrett at danielle.barrett@dm.usda.gov not later than Monday, April 2nd.  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.

Posted by PJC in IEC Meetings | Permalink

March 21, 2012

Federal Times reports on possible STOCK Act vote

The Federal Times reports that the Senate may vote on the STOCK Act as early as Thursday morning.  See full article at http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20120320/CONGRESS02/203200306/1001.

Posted by Account Deleted in Electronic Filing, Issues: Financial Disclosure, News | Permalink

March 20, 2012

Ethics in the News

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

March 19, 2012

Commodity Futures Trading Commission Post-Employment Statements

As part of its efforts to identify and expose revolving door abuses, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has begun making Freedom of Information Act requests for post employment statements, then making them publicly availalbe on the Internet. A Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) database is available. A POGO website entry has more information.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Revolving Door | Permalink

March 18, 2012

Air Force Acts on OSC Mortuary Report

The Washington Post reports on the Air Force response to the recent OSC mortuary investigation:

The Air Force said Friday [March 16] it will impose harsher penalties on the former commander and chief deputy of the Dover Air Force Base mortuary after a federal probe found they retaliated against subordinates for reporting systematic problems there, including cases in which body parts were lost.

The Air Force declined to specify what action it will take against Col. Robert Edmondson, the former commander, and his civilian deputy, Trevor Dean, saying only that it had begun disciplinary proceedings that will last into next month. Previously, Edmondson had been issued a letter of reprimand; Dean had been placed in a lesser, non-supervisory position.

The announcement was made in response to an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that protects whistleblowers. The probe found that Edmondson, Dean and another supervisor had provided phony reasons to fire or punish four mortuary workers who had exposed problems there.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OSC, Whistleblowers | Permalink

March 17, 2012

OSC Reports on Military Mortuary Whistleblowers

An Office of Special Counsel press release describes retaliation against military mortuary whistleblowers. Here's an excerpt:

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner also said the Air Force has committed to improving its internal investigation procedures and the way it remedies whistleblower retaliation claims. OSC applauds this effort.

“I am pleased the Air Force has agreed to take further disciplinary action and institute training to prevent whistleblower retaliation in the future,” Lerner said. “The Port Mortuary whistleblowers provided an important service to our country. They courageously stepped forward to report malfeasance and misconduct in the care of our fallen service members. Their actions have resulted in significant improvements at the Mortuary. The Office of Special Counsel will continue to work with government agencies to ensure that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.”

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OSC, Whistleblowers | Permalink

March 14, 2012

OSC Applauds Introduction of Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012

On its web site, OSC posted a release stating its support for the recent introduction of a bill that would update the 1939 Hatch Act law.  The new legislation will, among other things, modify the penalty structure of the Hatch Act for federal workers.

Posted by IEC Team 3 | Permalink

VA looking for computer-based AET

VA is looking for some computer-based annual ethics training.  If you have some computer-based training that you are willing and able to share, that is SCORM 1.2 conformant and section 508 compliant, please contact Jane Gutcher at jane.gutcher@va.gov or (202) 461-7624.

Posted by Account Deleted in Technology and Ethics, Training Aids | Permalink

March 13, 2012

WSJ View of New Ethics.gov Website

The Wall Street Journal had some comments on the White House's new Ethics.gov website, including:

[T]he accessibility of Ethics.gov makes it useful for oversight by journalists and others, said Nathaniel Heller of Global Integrity.

He said this is the first time he’d seen a government put together searchable datasets comprising information from so many agencies. In other countries, Heller said, it’s usually non-governmental organizations putting together a couple of them, and because of the difficulty, they don’t capture as much data from as many agencies.

Yet the new site “is a big time-saver, but not revolutionary,” Heller said. “It’s good that they did this because there’s not a lot in it for them.”

Even with the searchability of the new datasets, it’s still incumbent for government officials to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards, said Joe Newman, a spokesman for the Project on Government Oversight, in an email.

“Putting White House visitor records online is important but is a hollow gesture if meetings with lobbyists are held off-site. Knowing who is registered to lobby on behalf of foreign entities is important but meaningless if the law is not enforced,” Newman said.


Posted by IEC Team Leader in Web Resources | Permalink

March 12, 2012

SEC ethics attorney vacancy (GS 12-13-14 Equivalent)

The SEC has an opening in its Office of Ethics Counsel for an ethics attorney, GS-12-13-14 equivalent level ($96,590.00 to $157,981.00 / Per Year) and is looking to fill it as soon as possible.  The Securities and Exchange Commission's mission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. The agency seeks high-caliber employees who share the same values of integrity, fairness, accountability, resourcefulness, teamwork, and commitment to excellence.  The Office of the Ethics Counsel is responsible for advising and counseling all Commission employees and members on such issues as personal and financial conflicts of interest, securities holdings and transactions of Commission employees and their immediate families, gifts, seeking and negotiating other employment, outside activities, financial disclosure, and post-employment restrictions.

The Ethics Office also provides advice and action, on a normal or expedited basis, to all former SEC employees on post-employment restrictions as well as post-employment clearances required under SEC Conduct Rule 8(b), 17 CFR 200.735-8(b), prior to appearing before the Commission.

The SEC offers a number of enhanced pay and benefits plus the standard Federal benefits: paid dental insurance and vision insurance and increased agency subsidy for health insurance which supplements your health benefits premiums by $25 for self-only coverage, and $50 for family coverage.  For more information contact Shira Pavis Minton, Ethics Counsel, at mintons@sec.gov.  See http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/311444300.

Posted by Account Deleted in Help Wanted | Permalink

Praise for Inspectors General

The Project on Government Oversight is an IG booster. A recent article at their website contained links to 10 particularly significant IG investigations, and noted:

[T]he work of federal watchdogs isn’t exactly sexy. I’d wager you could walk from one end of the National Mall to the other and not pass a single person who could identify an Inspector General by name. However, recently, IGs are behind some of the biggest headlines and savings in U.S. government. Ever heard of the numerous scandals involving Solyndra? Bernie Madoff? Hurricane Katrina? Then you’ve probably run across a case that your trusty federal IG helped shed light on.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Inspectors General | Permalink

March 11, 2012

Time for Office Pool Reminder?

Our 2008 and 2009 posts discussed ways to remind employees that gambling is a standards of conduct violation.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Miscellaneous | Permalink

March 10, 2012

Proposed Hatch Act Reform Bill Status

Talking Points Memo has an update on the status of the proposed Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Hatch Act | Permalink

More Discussion of the Stock Act

The Washington Post ran an article detailing OGE's plan to post the public financial disclosure reports of Presidentially-Appointed, Senate-Confirmed employees on its web site, as soon as next week.  It also discusses some of the details in the Stock Act. 

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

March 09, 2012

Checklists, Other Aids for OGE Form 450 Review?

If March 8 is not too late for OGE to distribute a belated though still welcome e-mail on the subject "OGE Resources Available to Assist Ethics Officials Reviewing OGE Form 450," then maybe it's not too late for us to issue the following query:

Have any ethics offices developed their own checkists or other materials to facilitate review of OGE Form 450s?

If so, we would be glad to help you share them with other ethics officials.

Edited March 12 to correct typos.

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

GAO: Pentagon Delays in Whistleblower Investigations Harm Government

U.S.A. Today has a report on harmful delays in conducting Pentagon whistleblower investigation.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Whistleblowers | Permalink

March 08, 2012

White House Opens Ethics.gov Website

The government's Data.gov website is an effort to give citizens easy access to a variety of information about their government. The White House today unveiled Ethics.gov, which is a similar site focusing on ethics issues, including the following: 

As POGO notes:

This information has been available to the public in other digital corridors of the federal government, but until today, had not yet been brought under the same roof. This is a big deal. Being able to search all these records simultaneously marks a real step forward towards ethics transparency. 

Posted by IEC Team Leader in News | Permalink

Hatch Act Proposal

Thanks to Jack Fisher for alerting us to a Federal Times article on possible Hatch Act amendments.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Hatch Act | Permalink

OSC on Dover Military Mortuary Allegations

 An Office of Special Counsel press release discusses a resignation in the U.S. Dover military mortuary case: 

As reported in The Washington Post, one of the three officials found to have engaged in misconduct and retaliation at the U.S. military mortuary in Dover, Del., Quinton "Randy" Keel, has resigned. Mr. Keel’s actions at the mortuary first came to public light in the US Office of Special Counsel’s November 2011 report to the President and Congress. As three employees at the mortuary disclosed mismanagement and mishandling of human remains, Mr. Keel and two other supervisors illegally tried to suppress their disclosures and punish them for their whistleblowing.

It is not surprising that Mr. Keel chose to resign. The Office of Special Counsel’s report of investigation, which will be made public in mid-March and which the Air Force received in late January, found that Mr. Keel retaliated against the whistleblowers. We remain in communication with senior officials at the Air Force and await their final decisions on disciplinary action for the two supervisors who remain on staff.

"The government needs to listen to employees who come forward with serious allegations of wrongdoing," said Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. " And it needs to take disciplinary action when supervisors suppress or punish whistleblowers. Failure to do so sends a chilling message."

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Whistleblowers | Permalink

March 07, 2012

White House Hiring of Former Lobbyist Questioned

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank questions the hiring of former lobbyist Steve Ricchett as a counselor to Vice President Biden.

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

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ethics attorney vacancy (GS 12-13-14 Equivalent)

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Office of General Counsel has an opening in its Ethics Office for an ethics attorney, GS-12-13-14 equivalent level, and is looking to fill it as soon as possible.  CFPB is a groundbreaking organization solely devoted to the economic strength and vitality of American consumers.  The Ethics Office enjoys a fast-paced, collegial team environment in which to practice federal ethics law.  Duties of the incumbent will include administration of CFPB’s online financial disclosure system.  Salary ranges from $85,000 to $187,500 depending on current grade and experience.  Send your resumes to Ms. Jeannine Turenne by COB March 23.  Ms. Turenne’s email address is: jeannine.turenne@cfpb.gov and she can be reached by calling (202) 435-7034.

Posted by Account Deleted in Help Wanted | Permalink

March 06, 2012

Ethics related news here, there, & everywhere... Oh my!

Posted by Account Deleted in Miscellaneous, News | Permalink

March 05, 2012

Draft STOCK Act Would Increase Senior Manager Financial Disclosures

Federal Times suggests that thousands of government employees could be adversely affected by the proposed STOCK Act:

The financial disclosure forms for at least 28,000 senior federal civilians and military officers would be posted on the Internet under a bill now moving through Congress.

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act , already passed by the House, would require that financial disclosure forms be posted on a government website. Those who fill out called Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Form 278 include the president and vice president, presidential appointees, Senior Executive Service members, and general and flag officers. The forms, which are filed annually, are typically available only in paper form in response to a request.

Senate language that would include even SF-450 forms is expected to be deleted, but senior managers are concerned:

Putting the forms on the Internet would appear to be "a gross violation of the spirit of the Privacy Act," Bonosaro and SEA General Counsel William Bransford said in a recent letter to Senate leaders. ...

Supervisors could be subject to "unwarranted personal scrutiny by their subordinates, causing tension and problems in the workplace," they wrote, while foreign interests, including terrorists, could get access to information on federal employees serving abroad, Bonosaro and Bransford said.

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

March 03, 2012

Obama and the case of the missing watchdogs - The Week

But some of the most important agency posts — for example, an IG for the State Department — are vacant, and have been for years. Many of these "missing watchdogs" require an appointment from President Obama before the Senate can confirm them, but the White House has been downright sluggish, if not outright negligent, in taking action. 

via theweek.com

Posted by IEC Team Leader | Permalink

March 02, 2012

POGO: Don't Cut Watchdog Budgets

Budget Cutting is in the air, no doubt, but POGO argues that where you cut matters a great deal:

As Congress reviews the Administration’s request, it should keep in mind that OSC—like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs)—provides a substantial return on taxpayers’ investment :

Four cases alone in just the past few years restored well over $11 million to the government. This amount, while substantial, grossly understates the financial benefit OSC brings to the government.

The real measure of OSC’s financial contribution is prophylactic: By providing a safe channel for whistleblower disclosures, OSC regularly reins in waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, and threats to public health and safety that pose the very real risk of catastrophic harm to the public, and huge remedial and liability costs for the government.


Posted by IEC Team Leader in GAO, Inspectors General, OSC, Whistleblowers | Permalink

March 01, 2012

Training Tip 22: Enhance Training Materials With Font Choices

Accurate, and engaging content is the key to computer slide shows. However, appearance counts, and counts big. Font choice is one subtle but important appearance factor. It's worth taking some time to understand the basics of font choices for slide shows, and how they compare to other tools ethics trainers use to help their audiences, including printed handouts, transparencies, slide shows and online presentations.

The first step in being able to intelligently select fonts for use in training materials is to understand the key distinctions between categories of fonts: serif vs. sans serif, and print vs. screen, and system vs. professional:

Serif vs. Sans Serif

Serif fonts, like Times New Roman, have small ornamentation at the ends of letter strokes, called "serifs," or "hinting." Sans serif fonts, like Arial, lack such ornamentation. Decorative fonts (including script) are a third category that will rarely be useful for lawyers. I have prepared a font chart illustrating the three basic types, serif, sans serif and decorative.

Trick Question: Which style is more legible, serif or sans serif?

Short Answer: It depends on the medium. In general, serif fonts are better for printed matter, like books or newspapers. Sans serif fonts are better for computer displays.

Rationale: Serif fonts are easier to read in big blocks of text. The serifs help readers recognize the shape of a word, rather than decoding each letter individually. Nearly all books are printed in serif fonts, for this reason.

The problem with serif fonts is that they are harder to read at low resolutions, like on computer monitors. For example, laser printer resolution starts at 300 d.p.i., and can go up to 1200 d.p.i. Times Roman, a serif font, works well at these resolutions. By contrast, computer monitors (and projectors) have much lower resolution. The resolutions are so low that the serifs do not show up. Therefore, sans serif fonts are generally your best choice for computer use, though a sans serif screen font (discussed in the next section) may be OK in some situations.

Sans serif fonts are also easier to recognize as single words. This is why serif fonts are used for traffic signs. Professional typographers tend to use sans serif fonts for headings, and serif fonts for text body.

Print Fonts vs. Screen Fonts

Recent decades have seen a new development: Fonts designed specifically for computer display, sometimes called "screen fonts" or "web fonts."  Verdana (sans serif) and Georgia (serif) are examples. They look better on a computer display. Many screen fonts (including Verdana and Georgia) don't look as good when printed on paper. 

System Fonts vs. Professional Grade Fonts

Compters come with a selection of built-in "system fonts," including the ubiquitous Times New Roman and Arial. Some of these are better choices than others. The most commonly used choices provide the comfort of familiarity, but they are often inferior to less common system fonts, or professional grade fonts available as an upgrade. Broadening your horizons is a way of subtly or not-so-subtly improving the quality of your instructional materials.

The Typography for Lawyers book and website both have good practical advice on font selection, including "naming names" of hackneyed fonts and better choices. At the website, look under the "Font Samples" menu choice. The book has much more detailed information.

Practical Advice

I make no claim to be a font expert, but suggest the following simple rules will suffice for presenting most ethics training materials effectively:

  1. Use serif fonts for large blocks of text.
  2. Use sans serif fonts for headings.
  3. Use a screen font (either serif or sans serif) for computer slide shows or websites.
  4. Rather than fall into the Times New Roman/Arial rut of using only the most common system fonts, follow the guidance of experienced professionals when making your font selectons.

Want more information about fonts?  The Typography for Lawyers website and related book are the best resources I've found on this topic.

Provide your suggestions and examples in the Comments section below. We welcome your ideas as to topics for future columns. Biographical information about our Training Tips columnist and the Training Tips archives are available.

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