Ethics Violations in Government

No matter where your politics align, everyone involved in government can likely agree that there are certain ethics risks that other traditional business segments don’t necessarily face. And if your citizen-funded or taxpayer-driven government entity is seeking to improve ethics policies and compliance oversight, these are the emerging risks and violations to discuss.

Data Security and Privacy Ethics

As today’s commerce and economy are becoming more data-driven and digital, governments are transitioning to embrace innovative new ways of operation. Be mindful that your ethics policies have language specific to oversight related to how data is collected, stored, and shared. Privacy compliance and data breaches can happen anytime. So, preparing your government entity with mandates and ethics policies will help protect those assets.

Emerging Conflicts of Interest Scenarios

The primary function of government is rooted in serving the public good. The community’s welfare depends on the equal offering of everything from fire protection, policing, parks, libraries, and more. When conflicts of interest present among the ranks, you run the risk of losing that equality in service. And should there be government officials who prioritize personal or professional opinions in a way that impacts the provision of these common good services, it becomes an ethics violation.

Addressing Nepotism, Cronyism, and Favoritism

Even the smallest municipalities contend with concerns around nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism. But all three represent ethical risks at any level of government. As you develop or seek to improve your entity’s ethics policies, ensure you’re addressing proper and improper behaviors associated with these potential gray areas of violation.

In general, these are the definitions you can use to begin your discussions:

· Nepotism: This more narrowed form of favoritism describes perks, advantages, or benefits provided to members of family over others.

· Favoritism: As the term implies, favoritism implies favor to certain groups or individuals who align with personal preferences, likes, or politics.

· Cronyism: Another narrowed form of favoritism, cronyism refers to privileges awarded to colleagues, friends, or associates over more qualified or better-suited individuals or groups.

While the nature of government operations involves community connection and network, how decisions are made, from hiring practices to awarding contracts, should be addressed through a lens of ethics. And these three potential risks could present ethics violations.

Open Records and Transparency Policies

Today’s citizens are becoming more involved in their local municipalities and even politics. What government entities can be doing to improve ethics in operations is looking to boost transparency efforts. Taxpayers are most satisfied with their governing bodies when they can “see through” how everything works, how decisions are made, and what meeting discussions are taking place. Carefully craft language in your ethics policy that addresses open meeting regulations, open records requests, deliberation and voting processes, and transparency. Other topics of note that your ethics policy should provide transparency for include:

· Gifting and bribery

· Lobbying ethics

· Sexual harassment policies

· Whistleblower policies

· Campaign ethics

If your municipality is re-evaluating its ethics policy, consider these potential risks that deserve ongoing review and discussion. Implementing an ethics hotline may be warranted to help enforce these policies, and Ethical Advocate is here to help! Contact our ethics team!