Ethics Chief to Agency Heads: Promote Safe Culture for Reporting Misconduct

Five prominent members of Trump administration are under investigation

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. October 12, 2017

​David Apol, the federal government's ethics chief, is "deeply concerned" that some government leaders have engaged in impermissible conduct, he wrote in a recent memo. The memo follows on the heels of several members of President Donald Trump's cabinet being questioned, and one resigning, for their use of military and private airplanes.

We've rounded up the latest news on Apol's memo to agency heads on improving ethical cultures. Here are SHRM Online resources and news articles from other trusted media outlets.

'Should I?' Versus 'Can I?' Mentality

Apol's memo included an attachment that outlined suggested ethical actions for agency leaders, such as modeling a "Should I do it?" versus a "Can I do it?" mentality. He also suggested including ethics themes in speeches and memos, familiarizing themselves with their ethics programs and making sure they are properly staffed, and promoting a safe culture for reporting misconduct. (The Washington Post)

Investigations of Cabinet Heads Ongoing

Apol's memo follows the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, whose use of private charter and military jets cost the government $500,000, when he could have used commercial flights at a fraction of the cost. The flights of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt also are under investigation. (Newsweek)

Ethical Responsibilities for HR Professionals

HR professionals frequently face ethical challenges, but some of these are really professional judgment calls. The circumstances may require HR to consider whether there is a potential legal issue for the company, someone's safety is in jeopardy, or there are conflicts with the company's culture, mission or policies. (SHRM Online)

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What does the Sarbanes-Oxley Act have to do with HR?]

OGE Has Wrangled Directly with White House

The White House initially denied Apol's predecessor, Walter Shaub Jr., access to information about ethics waivers. The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) was reviewing whether the Trump administration was complying with federal ethics regulations, including an executive order Trump signed earlier this year prohibiting former lobbyists from having too much influence in the government. (The Washington Post)

Extend the Executive Order?

The Trump executive order also required administration appointees to commit to a lifetime ban on lobbying for foreign governments or foreign political parties and a five-year ban on lobbying their former agency. James Durso, managing director at consultancy firm Corsair LLC, has urged the administration to extend the lifetime ban on lobbying for foreign entities to all retired civil service personnel and foreign service officers. (The Hill)

Executive Order Might Be Circumvented

Trump's attempt to ban aides from profiting from their current jobs in the future may be easier said than done. Lobbying can be ambiguously titled. So, while former staff members may be barred from becoming registered lobbyists for five years, they nevertheless might leverage their government experience for a sizeable paycheck. (CNN)


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