We tend to forget that government agencies of all sizes have legal responsibilities too.. Then a different agency – maybe from a different level of government or a different branch – reminds us and them. 2012 - 2014 brought several such reminders, including:

  • A $1.7 million settlement by the State of Alaska for a misplaced flash drive containing patient information as well as inadequate policies, training and risk mitigation to meet its HIPAA responsibilities.

  • The US Department of Justice announced its 200th settlement under “Project Civic Access” which is aimed at getting state and local governments to comply with their responsibilities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Kansas City Missouri will undertake a series of actions over the next 3-6 years to settle its liabilities.

  • The DOJ also settled an 8 year long suit with the New York City Transit Authority over religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The suit arose when shortly after 9/11 the Authority began selectively enforcing its “uniform headgear” policy against Muslim and Sikh employees. The terms of the settlement required a cash payment, policy revision and training.

  • The Cattaraugus County New York's Department on Aging and the District of Columbia's Children and Family Services Agency both settled complaints with the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that they failed to provide sign language interpreters for the deaf and hearing impaired. The agencies will create policies that must be approved by OCR, conduct training and report their use of interpreter services to OCR during the period of their settlement agreements.

  • Blair County Pennsylvania and the US Department of Justice came to terms that will promote accessibility in polling places for the blind, visually impaired and voters in wheelchairs. The County will remove barriers, train and conduct election day "compliance reviews" to support compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So should these settling government agencies be required to have formal compliance, ethics or integrity programs as well?


Fidelity Bravery Integrity

Much has been written about the FBI’s adoption of a formal compliance program structure in 2007. A letter to the Senate from then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller proposing establishment of an “Office of Integrity and Compliance” described its intended role as follows:

  • “While compliance programs have long been a staple of private corporations, we believe this will be the first time that the federal government has established such a program. …Its mission will be to implement a strong compliance program, which will assist FBI management at all levels in maintaining a culture in which ethics and compliance are paramount.”

A press release described the Office’s Mission in more detail.

Emil Moschella, an attorney and former FBI agent who helped develop the program, described it in a 2009 presentation at the SCCE Compliance and Ethics Institute and a 2012 article published in the SCCE magazine. Also in 2009 Glenn Fine, Inspector General of the Department of Justice, described the Office’s staffing and questioned its impact in his testimony before Congress relating to the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. He promised Congress that his Office would conduct a follow-up review of the program, which was published in December 2011. Here's an interview with the assistant director of the program about that report. Here's a 2014 interview with the current Assistant Director of the program.

In addition to activities focused on compliance at the agency, the FBI has also sponsored “Compliance Academy” events for invited compliance practitioners. The Bureau recently conducted the third of these . A 2012 participant in the Academy, Doug Cornelius, describes the features and challenges of the FBI program.

What's In a Name?

Several federal agencies maintain an "Office of Professional Responsibility" within their organizational chart. But depending on the entity, these similar sounding offices have rather different roles. For example:

  • Department of Justice - the focus of the DOJ's Office is the actions of attorneys in the department, including investigating allegations of misconduct "that relate to the attorneys' exercise of authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice." Other misconduct allegations are investigated by the DOJ's Inspector General.

  • The Internal Revenue Service - the role if its OPR is to oversee the practice, ethics and competence of those preparing tax returns for others and representing them to the IRS. This includes attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents. Here's the head of the Office describing its role and obligations on IRSVIDEOS.GOV Misconduct by IRS and other Treasury Department employees is to be reported to the Inspector General's Office, which maintains multiple Hotlines.

  • Department of Homeland Security - has an Inspector General which serves as the "inspection, audit and investigation" arm of the Department. The IG operates a whistleblower hotline, but it's not clear if reports to the hotline can be made anonymously. Within the Department, Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is the "principal investigative arm" of the Department and contains within it an Office of Professional Responsibility with a broad ranging investigative mandate, oversight of the agency's background screening / security clearance process and responsibility for independent reviews of agency programs. This OPR has a separate hotline at 1-877-2INTAKE which accepts reports of "employee misconduct."

  • The National Security Agency has a "hotline" within its Office of the Inspector General where anonymous complaints can be registered.

  • Secret Service​ - has an Office of Professional Responsibility, created in February 2008 to "identify ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness" of agency operations, according to that year's annual report. The Office was also described as the agency's "internal affairs component" and played a role in the follow-up to the embarrassing incident in Columbia in April 2012. In his testimony before the Senate in May, Director Sullivan described how GS-15 supervisors from the Office now accompany each overseas "car plane" trip to brief the agents involved on standards of conduct expectations as well as help enforce those standards in the foreign country. A separate inquiry by the OIG for the Department of Homeland Security supported the Service's actions in follow-up to the scandal. The same OIG has recently completed a more extensive review of the agency that "did not find evidence that misconduct is widespread in USSS" or that "USSS leadership has fostered an environment that tolerates inappropriate behavior". The USSS response revealed that since Columbia it had appointed a "Chief Integrity Officer", conducted ethics training and given added visibility to its "Inspection Hotline".


Military Ethics

The very nature of their operations supports the need for ethics training in the operations of the armed forces. Here are some examples:

Other Government Compliance, Ethics and Integrity Efforts

FEDERAL

  • Congress has an Office of Compliance focused on OSHA, ADA and Labor law compliance issues. Check out its "Fast Facts" brochures on various compliance issues. The House of Representatives has had an Office of Congressional Ethics "an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the United States House of Representatives" for the past four years. The Senate's Select Committee on Ethics has mandatory training on the Senate's Code of Official Conduct.

  • The Office of Government Ethics, which is charged with "Preventing Conflicts of Interest in the Executive Branch", gives out Education and Communication awards for innovative practices in Executive Branch ethics programs. Here's the Director's 2013 Year in Review summary (Jan. 7, 2014)

  • The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency has seven committees, conducts training and publishes the Journal of Public Inquiry.

  • The US Department of Defense has a Standards of Conduct Office whose Ethics Resource Library includes the Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure.

  • The US Department of Veterans Affairs , beginning in 2013, has mandatory annual ethics training.

  • Special Government Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency have ethical obligations.


STATES

  • The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a database of state ethics oversight agencies and an explanation of the difference between an ethics "Commission" and a "Committee" (many states have both).

  • The District of Columbia has an Office of Integrity and Oversight (OIO) that “provides the Chief Financial Officer with an independent review of OCFO operations and programs." It also operates a reporting mechanism for Ethics and Integrity issues.

  • The Texas Department of Transportation has an Office of Compliance and Ethics with a Hotline (TXDOT Watch) .

  • New Jersey has a State Ethics Commission, which administers training and conducts “compliance reviews” to ensure state agencies are following ethics requirements.


COUNTIES

  • King County Washington has a Board of Ethics focused on “Helping employees make ethical decisions.” See how well you do on its annual “Ethics Quiz and Survey”

  • The Dekalb County Georgia's Community Services Board - has a hotline, a website and a Compliance Officer to cope with 6,000 pages of regulations and create a "Culture of Compliance" (video) (2011)

  • San Bernadino County , California has a Compliance & Ethics program

  • The Cobb County Community Services Board, Georgia, has an Ethics and Compliance Quiz


CITIES and DISTRICTS

  • The City of Austin’s Law Department administers its Citywide Ethics Training

  • The City of Chicago had a website for an Office of Compliance with inactive links about its “Mission” and “Structure”. The City’s Inspector General maintains a “Tipline” and investigates reports made to it.

  • The City of Dallas is currently under a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the US Department of Health and Human Services relating to its Medicare and Medicaid billing. The City maintains a Office of Code Compliance and a portal where citizens can register complaints and make non-emergency requests.

  • The El Paso Independent School District has an Ethics and Compliance hotline

  • The Weathersford Independent School District (Texas) at one time had an "Ethics Hotline" and tied its use to the District's values of ethical behavior and personal integrity.

  • The City of Jacksonville has an Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight that operates a hotline, conducts ethics training and has compiled a survey of other city programs.

  • The City of SouthLake Texas has a Code of Ethics and Conduct (video)



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