US Agency Ethics Programs

All 136 U.S. government executive branch agencies responded to the annual agency ethics program questionnaire distributed by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE). Click here for a list of those agencies and their individual responses. Following are some interesting tidbits from the OGE summary (U.S. OGE, 2017). We’ve selected from those survey topics that may be most relevant to private-sector ethics programs.

Ethics Program Leadership

A large majority (87%) of the designated agency ethics officials are career government employees (as opposed to political appointees); just over half of them have been in their positions for less than four years. Most spend less than 50% of their time on ethics; in fact, 77% of them spend only 25% of their time or less.

Program Resources

Almost 6900 individuals support the ethics program, although for most it is only part of their duties. To put this number in perspective, the 136 agencies employee 3.8 million full-time staff. Just over one-third of the agencies report the need for additional resources (people, technology, and budget).

Program Structure

Most (72%) of the designated agency ethics officials have supervisory authority over the ethics officers that support their agency’s ethics programs; the responsibilities most likely to be delegated outside their chain of command are ethics education and training, advice and counseling, and the confidential financial disclosure program.

Program Administration

Most time is spent on advice and counseling, confidential financial disclosure, education and training, and public financial disclosure, in that order. As for program assessment, 60% of agencies conduct self-assessments.

Agency Leadership

According to the 136 agencies, all their leaders demonstrate support for the ethics program. And 65% of agencies report that ethics staff meet with agency heads to discuss strengths and weaknesses of the ethics program.

Succession Planning

Almost 75% of agencies have knowledge libraries and written standard operating procedures as an approach to succession planning. Over 80% offer structured courses for their ethics officials and a lesser number offer mentoring.

Initial Ethics Orientation

Agencies deliver initial ethic orientations to almost all employees (97%) within 90 days (as required); most use written materials, one-on-one briefings, or in-person classroom instruction. Other approaches (also used for annual ethics training) include self-paced web-based training, satellite broadcast/videoconference, video, instructor-led web-based, and miscellaneous other options.

Annual Ethics Training

Similarly, 98% of employees who are supposed to receive annual ethics training do receive it, mostly through in-person classroom instruction, one-on-one briefings, or written materials. Many agencies also provide annual training to persons not otherwise required to receive it, and some (less than half) provide specialized training to supervisors and/or procurement officials.

Advice and Counseling

The top two topics that employees seek guidance on are gift acceptance and financial disclosure reporting, followed by conflicting financial interests, outside employment activities, travel-related expenses from non-federal sources, and post-employment restrictions.

Other survey topics covered, which may have less in common with private sector interests, include financial disclosure, electronic filing (of financial disclosures), remedies, enforcement, and advisory committees/special government employees.

These survey results provide insight into the ongoing efforts of the OGE and of individual agency ethics officials to ensure government agencies comply with ethics-related laws and directives. And they provide additional points of comparison for private-sector firms that are evaluating their own efforts.

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U.S. Office of Government Ethics. CY16 Annual Agency Ethics Program Questionnaire Results: A Summary of the Executive Branch Ethics Program, July 2017.