It’s a best practice for ethics hotline programs—or ethics and compliance programs as a whole—to be audited on a regular basis. We all hope for glowing reviews and love to hear about what’s going right, but we learn more and can make effective improvements when we listen to what’s not going so right.
Kansas City, Missouri recently audited its ethics hotline operations and learned that it needs to make some internal improvements. Because the audit report made specific recommendations and because Kansas City chose to make the report public, we all can learn from the city’s experience.
The city established its hotline in 1999. Since 2004, calls to the hotline have dropped significantly, for a number of possible reasons. Here’s a summary of the audit results (Highlights, 2016; Horsley, 2016).
- The city’s hotline administrator is a city manager with many other duties, leaving limited time to oversee hotline operations.
- The city has not developed policies and procedures to guide and provide consistency and continuity in hotline operations.
- The city has not consistently explained or promoted the hotline and the hotline number is not easy to find.
- Over 30 percent of city employees do not know there is a hotline and more than 40 percent do not know how to find the hotline phone number.
- Investigations can take too long and are not thorough.
- Not all staff assigned to investigate hotline cases are trained investigators.
- The city does not consolidate, analyze, or report information and data on hotline related activities.
- The city’s hotline program could be strengthened by incorporating more recommended practices.
- Designate a permanent hotline administrator with the appropriate skill and time to oversee ethics hotline operations.
- Develop written policies and procedures that incorporate best practices.
- Post the hotline number on the city’s home page and take other steps to explain and promote the hotline.
- Test the call intake process periodically, and update information in the database so that hotline callers can be kept informed about the status of their case.
- Assign trained investigators and improve communications with hotline callers.
- Demonstrate management’s commitment and support of the city’s ethical environment.
Ethical Advocate provides ethics and compliance support for government agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and both public and private companies.
Highlights: Performance Audit—Recommended Practices Would Strengthen Hotline Operations, August 2016. Office of the City Auditor, City of Kansas City, Missouri.
Horsley, Lynn. “KC City Auditor Cites Shortcomings with Ethics Hotline,” Kansas City Star, August 30, 2016. http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article98797717.html