February 11, 2014
by Walter M. Shaub, Jr.
Each year, OGE publishes a survey of prosecutions of federal employees alleged to have violated criminal conflict of interest laws. You might ask why OGE would focus on alleged ethical failures, given that OGE’s primary mission to prevent conflicts of interest. The reason is that the survey illustrates the high standards to which federal employees are held and the potential consequences for the few found to have violated the public’s trust. A comprehensive ethics program necessarily includes not only safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest before they occur but also mechanisms for enforcing ethics rules if they are violated. One such mechanism is disciplinary action, including termination of federal employment, and the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board publishes decisions in cases involving serious adverse employment actions. Another mechanism is prosecution if misconduct rises to the level of criminality. OGE’s Prosecution Survey provides examples of this mechanism in action.
In 2013, OGE collected data from U.S. Department of Justice offices that conducted such prosecutions during the previous year, and OGE has posted the findings of that survey on its website. OGE’s Prosecution Survey serves several purposes for the executive branch ethics program. The survey draws attention to the important work of federal Inspectors General, who investigate potential violations of the criminal conflict of interest laws, and to the prosecutors in U.S. Attorney offices throughout the country and in DOJ’s Office of Public Integrity, who litigate the cases. The survey is a useful training tool because it provides examples of how the criminal conflict of interest laws are applied in cases involving real situations and real employees, making abstract principles concrete for federal ethics officials and employees alike. The survey serves as a deterrent by showing that violators will be held accountable. The survey also supports OGE’s goals of making the executive branch ethics program transparent and bolstering public confidence in the integrity of government operations.
The most recent edition of OGE’s Prosecution Survey and past editions dating from the 1990s are available to the public on OGE’s website.