April 30, 2012
Attitudes Toward Whistleblowers
The Federal Eye and GovLoop conducted an informal survey on whether whistleblowers are welcome in government. They came up with an interesting collection of quotes, including:
“The GSA scandal will not lead to more whistleblowers.Yes, it’s true, there are many conscientious federal employees. These same employees have seen numerous cases of fraud, waste or abuse throughout their agencies and careers. But when a federal employee blows the whistle on fraud, waste, or abuse, a large target is placed on the employee’s back. By blowing the whistle, the employee enters the cross-hairs of the agency. And most agencies will dedicate large sums of taxpayer’s money and conduct investigations that may last for years to get the whistleblower and more importantly, to ‘set the tone for anyone thinking of becoming a whistleblower in the future.’...
“The bottom line: Be cautious, whistleblowing offers no protection for the employee and remains second to politics of the agency. A whistleblower will be harassed and isolated from information necessary for them to perform their duties, and therein begins the cycle of a poor performer and the first step towards removal from service.” — TSA employee
April 25, 2012
House to Vote on Bill Capping Spending on Government Conferences
The Washington Post ran an article stating the House is expected to vote on a bill Wednesday to address government agencies' spending practices for conferences. Included in the proposed measure is a cap on spending for a single conference ($500,000) and a limit to the number of employees from a single agency traveling to a conference in another country (50). Agencies would also be required to file a report four times a year on conference spending. The Federal Times also has details on the bill.
Posted by IEC Team 3 | Permalink
April 24, 2012
Good Advice on Keeping Scandals into Perspective
Tom Fox's recent Washington Post Ask The Federal Coach column shows better judgment about recent scandals than most of his colleagues in the news media here's an excerpt:
The scandalous acts of a few government employees who wasted taxpayer dollars and abused the public trust are making headlines, but these cases are not representative of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workers. In fact, they are far from the norm.
The excessive spending by General Service Administration (GSA) employees on a lavish Las Vegas conference and the prostitution scandal involving Secret Service agents are rocking the government right now. Not only do these misguided actions reinforce the negative perceptions of government workers, but federal executives tell me that are taking a toll on employee morale.
The vast majority of federal employees are committed, hard-working and conscientious individuals who work for the government because they believe in the value and spirit of public service.
But, brace yourself and your team members because federal workers are the perfect punching bag in an election year. The scandals offer an opportunity for some in Congress to suggest that wrongdoing exposed in the past few weeks is standard government practice.
As a federal leader, you need to paint a different picture of government workers, the vast majority of whom deserve praise, not condemnation.
Posted by IEC Team Leader | Permalink
HHS Analyst GS-11/13 Opening
The Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) is currently conducting a search for a Management Analyst in the Office of the General Counsel, Ethics Division. The successful candidate will support HHS and OGC leadership by engaging in ethics program reviews of the Department and of the large, complex operating and staff divisions that operate internal ethics programs.
This full-time position is located in Washington, DC, with an annual salary ranging from $62,467-$115,742. The vacancy announcement will be open through Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Please bring this opportunity to the attention of individuals you think are qualified for, and perhaps would be interested in, this important position. OGC is an equal opportunity employer, and we encourage applications from a diverse pool of high quality candidates.
To view the Merit Promotion Announcement (HHS-OS-OCG-MP-643201, open to current and former Federal Employees) at all grade levels, visit the link below:
Closing Date: May 22, 2012
April 23, 2012
FEMA Leads the Way in Podcasts
Anyone who visited the FEMA booth at the last OGE conference could only be impressed by FEMA's aggressive, sophisticated approach to employee education. Since the publication of our most recent post on podcasts, we learn they are ahead of the pack in this area as well. Paul Conrad advises us that FEMA OCC has been doing podcasts on various legal topics at OCC this past year, including several on ethics topics. They are distributed via FEMA's OCC internal website.
With Mr. Conrad's permission, a couple of transcripts are available:
April 22, 2012
Meaning of Link or Quote
This site has maintained a prominent link to its attribution policy since Feb. 1, 2004. There seems to be some recent confusion about what it means when IEC Journal links to or quotes from a news story. At the risk of stating the obvious we note:
A link or a quote should not be interpreted as an endorsement.
We include links or quotes for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we link to or quote from material we do not agree with, because we believe it is important for anyone doing ethics work to have an awareness of divergent views.
The Office of Government Ethics shares this goal of exposing ethics officials to divergent views. One of the most memorable examples was OGE giving a featured speaking role at one of its conferences to G. Calvin Mackenzie, author of the book Scandal Proof. It would be fair to describe a main thesis of Dr. Mackenzie's book to be that OGE's approach to government ethics regulation for decades has been misguided and ineffective.
Did OGE invite Dr. Mackenzie to be a featured speaker because they agreed with him? Not at all. To their credit, they thought exposure to his contrary viewpoint would strengthen the ethics community.
OGE was right. Listening only to those who only repeat things you already know, or who agree with you is not conducive to professional growth.
When we link to organizations like The Center for Public Integrity, Government Accountability Project, Project on Government Oversight, or even some random newspaper columnist or blogger with something interesting to say about ethics (like this one), we are trying to stimulate critical thought. You may not agree with everything they say. You may consider their views hopelessly naive and unrealistic. However, we believe (and OGE's track record makes us think they believe) that awareness of broader policy debates makes the ethics community stronger, not weaker.
Our linking/quoting practices are in the mainstream of those followed by the better websites like IEC Journal, and we believe them to be well understood by most even moderately sophisticated readers. However, suppose you believe that unsophisticated readers of IEC Journal may be confused, and may assume that a link to a site constitutes a tacit endorsement of the material there?
Not a problem! We welcome more voices, more viewpoints. We will be glad to publish any type of supplement or clarification you care to submit, under your name, your agency's name, or as an unattributed item. We're not like the New York Times or Washington Post that may deign to run a short letter to the editor, if anything.
We are pleased to have received fantastic audience feedback in the 8+ years we have been in operation. People seem to understand what we are doing, and appreciate it a great deal. With your feedback and contributions we believe IEC Journal can become even stronger. We welcome your support.
Balanced Perspectives on GSA Conference Scandal
A Washington Post column by Joe Davidson provides a more balanced perspective on the GSA conference scandal problem and the need for reform than most in the news media. He includes a quote from a federal employee:
“Unfortunately for those of us in agencies where a. we don’t have money for conferences to begin with, and b. we aren’t even allowed funds to buy coffee when we have on site meetings, the result of the GSA excesses will be increased scrutiny of all travel and training requests. So all of us, honest thrifty agencies included, will have to jump through more hoops and spend more time justifying everything we do.
“Thanks for making life harder for the rest of us govvies, GSA!”
An article in The Hill notes other interesting facts about the GSA scandal:
[O]ne might argue that the issue isn’t the cost, but the cover-up. Except there was no cover-up. The “scandal” was not exposed by reporters meeting sources in parking garages. No one even had to file a Freedom of Information Act request. The waste was exposed by the GSA’s own inspector general. Before anyone could demand that those responsible be fired – they were fired. And before anyone could say the problem goes all the way to the top, the person at the top, GSA Director Martha Johnson, resigned.
Bottom Line: It's important that those familiar with the facts not allow the news media feeding frenzy to create misleading impressions about government employees in general. The overwhelming majority are hard workers with sound judgment, far from the few bad apples at GSA.
April 21, 2012
STOCK Act Backlash
A Washington Post article summarizes negative reactions to the STOCK Act. Here's an excerpt:
The Senior Executives Association on Tuesday sent letters to congressional leaders on civil service issues, saying that “intrusive requirements” of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act “are already having a chilling effect on the recruitment and retention of career executives.”
It's not unusual for a reform to have negative side effects. It remains to be seen whether the SES public reporting provisions of the STOCK Act will turn out to be a net plus or net negative. We welcome your thoughts on this issue. One of our Reporters has been on top of this issue for months, but community feedback can only strengthen her efforts.
Use of our "Category" system for organizing archival material may facilitate tracking developments on the STOCK Act:
Issues: Financial Disclosure
Clicking this category name in the list in the left hand column enable instant access to all our posts on this topic.
April 17, 2012
May 3rd Meeting
The topic for our May 3rd meeting will be "Financial Products for Dummies." Our guest speakers from the New York Federal Reserve are Michael Drago, who will speak about certain financial products, and Yasamine Hashemi, an ethics official, who will address how to report the products on a disclosure report. Special thanks to Cary Williams for assisting in arranging this program.
We will meet at the U.S. Access Board, at 1331 F Street, N.W. 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 the roster but who wish to attend can pre-register by contacting Danielle Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org not later than Monday, April 30th. 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.
April 16, 2012
More fall out from GSA conference scandal
Here are some additional articles relaying more information on the GSA conference scandal:
- AP reports on 4 Congressional hearings due this week. http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_289563/contentdetail.htm?full=true&contentguid=dcT0ukeB&detailindex=#display
- GovExec reports on emails which show organization was unsure whether to give official bonus or reprimand for lavish conference: http://www.govexec.com//oversight/2012/04/gsa-leaders-disagreed-reprimand-lavish-conference-lawmakers-say/41770/
- FedTimes reports that GSA IG referred the matter to Justice for consideration of criminal charges (likely in procurement area). http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20120413/DEPARTMENTS07/204130302/1001
April 13, 2012
Thanks to IEC Reporter Amanda Blue
Today we celebrate the anniversary of IEC Reporter Amanda Blue's contributions to IEC Journal. Her timely and relevant posts have graced the website, and are grateful to have a reporter of her quality.
Legislation Watch: HR. 4343
On March 29, 2012, Representative Wolf (R-Va.) introduced HR. 4343. The Foreign Lobbying Reform Act seeks to add a new post-Govt employment restrictions to 18 U.S.C. § 207. The new subsection, (m), would prohibit the President, the Vice President, any Member of Congress, most PAS (excluding uniformed members 0-7 and above), and the heads of certain Intelligence and Defense agencies, from aiding, advising, or representing a foreign entity before any employee of member of Congress, or any employee or officer of any agency or department of the executive branch for 10 years after leaving office.
Read the Bill: Download HR 4343 (PGE)
April 12, 2012
OSC new Q&A on use of title
From the Office of Special Counsel Hatch Act (Apr. 12, 2012):
"Recently the Office of Special Counsel’s Hatch Act Unit has received several questions regarding whether a Cabinet secretary may use the title “Secretary” when engaged in political activity, such as speaking at a political campaign event. The following Q&A was written in response to those questions. It will be posted on [OSC's] website.
"Q: When engaging in political activity (i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group), such as speaking at a political campaign event, may a Cabinet secretary use the title “Secretary?”
"A: No. Hatch Act regulation states that an employee may not use his or her official title while participating in political activity. 5 C.F.R. § 734.302(b)(1). Accordingly, a Cabinet secretary may not use the official title “Secretary” when engaging in political activity, such as speaking at a political campaign event. However, a Cabinet secretary may use a general form of address, such as “The Honorable,” when engaging in political activity, as such address does not identify his or her position. 5 C.F.R. § 734.302, Example 1.
"... if you have any Hatch Act related questions, feel free to contact the Hatch Act Unit at 202-254-3650 or send an e-mail to Hatchact@osc.gov."
Interesting Washington Post Article on Presidential Candidates 278s
A Washington Post article discussed in depth the OGE 278 (Public Financial Disclosure) requirements for Presidential candidates, including focus on what must be disclosed and when.
April 11, 2012
One IEC member was unable to download the Hatch Act PowerPoint show distributed here recently. Here are some suggestions, for those who might experience similar problems:
In a sometimes misguided attempt to bolster security, some agencies install arbitrary automated rules limiting downloads from certain sites, or certain types of files. For some reason, the Army was particularly prone to such errors a few years ago. It sounds like you are experiencing a similar problem.
In my experience, if you can find the right person on your IT staff and patiently explain the error to the right person, they will usually correct their mistake. I’ve generally found it easier to get the file I need by accessing IEC Journal from a computer that is not under agency control.
Usually I would suggest a third troubleshooting technique: Download the slide show from the OSC web site (in case the filter in question gave preference to .gov domain websites). However, on a quick search, I was unable to locate the slide show there.
April 09, 2012
Hatch Act Resources
With a national election looming, it is the season for Hatch Act awareness and training. Our Hatch Act archives are one source. For a sample of the lighter touch, try Rosa Koppel's Hatch Act poem, published here last year.
April 07, 2012
Use of Educational Podcasts Grows
We note with interest that the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center has converted its 2012 FLETC Legal Division Audio Handbook into podcast format and placed it online. The sophisticated organizations with training needs are embracing podcasts provide a model for ethics trainers wishing to embrace new delivery mechanisms. Jerry Lawson's September Training Tips column contains more information, including the following observation:
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.
A subsequent post provided links to how-to advice on implementation.
April 06, 2012
More On the GSA Conference; GSA Employee Rewards Program
In addition to last week's story about the lavish GSA conference in Las Vegas, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are also looking into the agency's employee rewards program, which awarded employees iPods, gift cards and other valuable items for what Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla. and Rep. Jeff Dunham, R-Cali., called "questionable reasons at best." The full article can be found on the Government Executive web site.
Posted by IEC Team 3 | Permalink
Emphasizing Public Benefit of Whistleblowers
The Government Accountability Project argues that better whistleblower policies might have prevented the 9/11 attacks:
One month before 9/11, instructors at a Minnesota flight school call the FBI. Among other suspicious happenings, the most unusual "student" they have ever encountered just plopped down thousands in cash to learn to fly a 747, claiming his only purpose was "ego-boosting." Agents in the Minneapolis FBI Office immediately confirm the information and seek permission to search by warning FBI Headquarters in over 60 emails and frantic telephone calls that "this is a guy who could fly into the World Trade Center." Although the 'Director of Central Intelligence' is briefed within days with a presentation titled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly", neither the FBI or CIA staff does anything until after 9/11. Right after the attacks, however, the officials quickly cover-up these pre 9/11 lapses -- actions hastened by internal repression.
This wasn't the first lapse. In the years before 9/11, an FAA "Red Team" warns that it breaches airport security 90 percent of the time, but is censored from writing its findings and banned from retesting. The same Logan Airport gate exploited by the 9/11 hijackers had flunked just months before. After the attacks, the government grounds and reassigns the Red Team leader (a whistleblower) to remedial duties.
April 05, 2012
Accessing IEC Journal Archives
Many IEC Journal users enjoy our frequent updates but may not be familiar with how to access the treasures contained in our archives. Each of our over 2000 posts since 2004 is available. We offer the following methods to locate archives information:
Categories. Selecting one of the topcs at left, like Fiscal Law, GAO, etc., will lead to previous posts on that subject.
Search Engine. Type your search phrase in the box in the upper right corner and press Search. We use a free version of the Google search engine, customized to search only the domain IECJournal.org. The search results include ads. This is Google's way of charging us for the use of the customized search engine.
Daily Calendar. If you are looking for a post on a particular day, you can click the date on the calendar in the upper right side of the page.
Monthly Calendar. Just below the daily calendar we have links to our archives sorted by months.
Ad Hoc Calendar. If you want to find a post by date but it's older than the menus provided by default, you can extrapolate the date. Our platform uses a uniform, predictable pattern for numbering old posts, so you can extrapolate from the form that's readily available. For example, the link for the archives of June 2011 is:
If you want the archives for 2006, just change the number 2011 to 2006.
Familiarity with the IEC Journal archives will give you a valuable resource.
April 04, 2012
President signs STOCK Act
"On April 4, 2012, the President signed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (STOCK Act) (S. 2038). The Act establishes new requirements for Executive Branch ethics programs, ethics officials, and the thousands of employees who currently file financial disclosure reports pursuant to the Ethics in Government Act. OGE fully supports the Act’s focus on improving transparency and promoting public confidence in government and is carefully analyzing the provisions of the new law. In consultation with DAEOs and other senior agency ethics officials, OGE will issue a series of Legal, Program, and Education Advisories to implement the Act’s provisions.
Questions from agency ethics officials should be directed to the OGE Team that supports your agency. Media and related inquiries should be directed to Vincent Salamone at (202) 482-9292."
See STOCK Act: Download STOCK Act
April 2012 IEC Presentation Materials: OSC Hatch Act Hot Topics
[UPDATED] Here are the handouts for this week's IEC presentation:
- Power Point Presentation: Download 2012 Hot Topics
- Updated OSC Social Media Hatch Act Guidance: Download Social Media and the Hatch Act 2012
- OSC Advisory Opinions:
Please print out and bring to the presentation.
UPDATED: OSC Social Media Hatch Act guidance
The updated guidance modifies OSC's position on Further Restricted employees Facebook activities.
"OSC now advises that, regardless of the employee’s privacy settings, the Hatch Act would not prohibit a further restricted employee from 'following' the Twitter account of a political party, partisan group, or partisan candidate’s campaign. Similarly, the Hatch Act would not prohibit a further restricted employee from becoming a 'friend' of or 'liking' a political party, partisan group, or candidate’s Facebook page. OSC does not view such activity as active participation in partisan political campaigning."
However, Further Restricted employee could violate the Hatch Act (by "active participation in partisan political campaigning") with posts and comments on these entities’ Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, and Facebook “share” or “re-share” or Twitter "re-tweets" from these entities.
See the updated guidance at: Download Social Media and the Hatch Act 2012
Failure to Pay Taxes A Standards of Conduct Issue
The Washington Post reports
About 98,000 federal, postal and congressional employees owed $1.03 billion in unpaid taxes at the end of fiscal 2010, according to records provided by the Internal Revenue Service. The total number of delinquent employees dipped slightly from 2009, but the amount owed jumped by $32 million.
The figures are “totally unacceptable and disrespectful to hardworking American taxpayers,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). “If you’re on the federal payroll, the very least you can do is pay your taxes.”
Chaffetz and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have authored bills that would force federal agencies, the U.S. Postal Service and congressional offices to fire employees who purposely avoid paying taxes.
April 03, 2012
GSA Head resigns over excessives conference spending
Multiple news outlets have reported on the resignation of Martha Johnson, her deputy, but not before firing two senior GSA officials over a 2010 GSA Western Regions Conference, held in Los Vegas. Following an IG investigation, it was found that “many of the expenditures on this conference were excessive and wasteful, and that in many instances GSA followed neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending.” To read the GSA IG Report: Download GSA IG Report 2012.
- GovExec articles: http://m.govexec.com/management/2012/04/lavish-conference-costs-top-gsa-officials-their-jobs/41651/?oref=top-story and http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2012/04/report-details-excessive-and-wasteful-conference-spending-gsa/41657/?oref=river
- Washington Post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gsa-chief-resigns-amid-reports-of-excessive-spending/2012/04/02/gIQABLNNrS_story.html
April 02, 2012
More on Dover Whistleblower
A CBS report provides a new perspective on the case of the Dover military mortician case referenced here earlier. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:
Zwicharowski hit another nerve when he called for an outside investigation of the way the mortuary was run. From then on, he was branded a troublemaker.
A report by the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency created to protect whistleblowers, detailed an escalating campaign of retaliation against Zwicharowski.
Caroline Lerner heads the office. "He was the target of a series of personnel actions all the way up to termination," she said.
After a gunman at Fort Hood killed 13 people in November 2009, Zwicharowski volunteered to come in on his day-off and help with the remains as they arrived at Dover.
"I was confronted and told to go home," he recalled.
Lerner said it was a public humiliation. "It was clear they were trying to send a message to the other employees at the mortuary that this is what happens to people who come forward." ...
DOD Bribe Taker's Emotional Appeal Sways No One
Judges hear a lot of excuses. Here's one that did not prevent the judge from imposing a 20 month sentence on an ex-DOD official:
“It was a one-time deal. I thought if I did that, I could walk away from Afghanistan,” Wade said in an emotional and occasionally rambling statement. “I had seen enough.”
Navy Times provides more:
Desi Deandre Wade is an Army veteran who was the Defense Department’s top firefighting official in Afghanistan when he was arrested at an August conference in Atlanta moments after taking a bag crammed with $95,000 in cash. He pleaded guilty to taking the bribe to influence a contract, saying Wednesday he wanted to return home to Georgia with enough money to leave behind a three-year stint in Afghanistan.
April 01, 2012
Training Tip 23: Slide Show Formatting Basics
Compliance with the following basic slide show formatting principles can make make your presentation appear much more professional:
Colors. Old fashioned transparencies, often referred to as overheads, worked much better as dark text on a light, preferably white background. Modern computer slide show projectors use a different technology. With slides, light colored text works best against a dark background.
What background color is best? Some authorities suggest trying to match colors to the emotional mood you are trying to create. For example:
Purple: Royalty, wisdom, spirituality, mystery
Green: Nature, environment, health, reptiles, insects
Gray: Conservative, practical, reliability, security, staid
See the Think Outside the Slide website for more.
Certainly there might be some benefit to this approach in some situations. However, as a practical matter I usually give these factors little consideration when preparing my own slide shows. I normally use the color combination that is generally acknowledged to have the highest legibility: Dark blue background, with light text, usually white or yellow. The most important thing for me is that the audience be able to read the slides easily. I'll use methods other than color if I feel I need to maniuplate the audience's emotions.
Whatever color scheme you choose, to improve legibility try to maximize the contrast between foreground and background. Light grey text on a medium gray background is a recipe for disaster. The Think Outside the Slide website has a color contrast calculator.
Font Followup. Last month we had a detailed discussion on selecting fonts for various projects, including slide shows. Selecting the right fonts gets us only part of the way home, though. Size is important. Some authorities suggest rules of thumb, even a 24 point minimum. However, point sizes of different fonts are not directly comparable, so I recommend a more pragmatic rule: Test the size of your font from a distance equal to the distance from the most remote seat in the auditorium you will be using. If you prefer a rule of thumb to actual testing, then you will usually be OK with fonts size 18 points or higher.
The ransom note effect is another font hazard. Keep the number of fonts to a minimum.
Bullet Points. Bullet points have the salutory effect of improving quick comprehension. However, deploy them wisely. Squeezing too many bullet points on a slide creates a cluttered impression. No more than five bullet points per page is a pretty good rule of thumb.
Bullet Point Sub-Levels. Avoid having more than two levels of bullets on slides. In other words, you can have a bullet point, and one sub-level below them. If you need more sub-levels to convey complex ideas, it's better to break them into more slides.
Templates. Good slide show software provides templates (called "slide masters" in MS PowerPoint) to provide a consistent layout. I occasionally see presenters who do not use templates. It's nearly always a mistake. The templates are designed by professional designers. The defaults in a decent template will facilitate a professional appearance. A Google search on the phrase using powerpoint templates will find plenty of tutorials to get you started. You can override the template for a particular slide if you want, you can even modify the template if you need to, and you can even create your own templates. In any event, take advantage of templates to help make a good impression on your audiences.
Logos. Some presenters who have just learned how to edit templates or create their own succumb to the temptation to include their organization's logo on every slide. This is popular in businesses as a form of "branding." It is generally not advisable in the ethics training context. A logo on every page is usually overkill that limits your flexibility to structure subsequent slides. The best approach is probably to include the logo on the first slide, and maybe the last. If demands of unsophisticated supervisors or other reasons make you feel you absolutely must include the logo on every slide, make it small, except on the first slide and the last, where you can usually get away with more. Whatever you do, don't follow the example of one OGE conference presentation I saw that included no less than four different agency seals on every single slide, one for each of the four presenters!
Edited April 2, 2012 with various improvements.