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A Farewell Call to Public Service

July 3, 2023

Emory Rounds, Director (Former)

In July, when we celebrate our nation’s beginnings, and the public service that independence needs to prosper, I will conclude my term as OGE’s Director. The day after my departure will be the first time in more than 45 years that I have not been engaged with public service. It indeed has been a great honor to serve the American people.

I have held many roles in the service of our nation: first, as a career naval officer, thereafter as a civilian employee at the Department of Commerce, the White House, and in several roles at OGE. Through all these years and duties I learned well that there are no small tasks and no small positions in public service.

Public service is unusual from the beginning. Whether one is a clerk or a President, we begin with an oath to put the public’s interest ahead of our own. And, through this oath, public servants, each and all, are entrusted with something precious: the trust that binds citizens to their government and their nation.

In the previous five years at OGE, I have had the distinct honor to lead and steward an organization that is almost wholly focused on preserving and strengthening the trust between the American people and their government. I have had the distinct fortune to work with and among public servants who are expertly dedicated to preserving and strengthening that trust. I became a custodian of an organization that was fit for its purpose and performing exceptionally well. My mission, like most helmsmen, was to keep a steady heading, take advice from the crew, and allow OGE’s team of experts to succeed. I trusted them implicitly, and they each and all exceeded my every expectation.

As an organization, we have made headway in virtually all areas of our responsibility.

OGE’s policy team has continued to improve and modernize our regulations and policies. They have issued guidance addressing emergent ethics questions, like those posed by social media and digital assets. They have worked to modernize regulations, informed by your feedback, to make them more useful to the contemporary federal workforce. Also informed by your feedback, OGE is updating financial disclosure forms as well as guidance and resources, which are relied upon by hundreds of thousands of executive branch employees and officials.

OGE’s technology teams have continued to improve the systems used for filing and accessing financial disclosure reports. The Integrity system, OGE’s electronic filing system, has been steadily upgraded and improved, and functions nearly flawlessly as a vital piece of the ethics program infrastructure.

OGE’s financial disclosure reviewers have made sure that financial disclosure is no barrier to the President’s filling senior positions. They have identified and prevented countless potential conflicts of interest. They have prepared many thousands of reports for public review and inspection.

OGE redesigned its website to make it easier to conduct legal research and find ethics documents, such as public financial disclosure reports and agency oversight documents. In addition, our legal compliance team has protected individual privacy while making reports and documents easier for the public to request, access, and understand.

OGE’s Desk Officer team has improved support for the more than 5,000 ethics officials across the executive branch. Every agency has an expert at OGE who they can call for assistance with ethics challenges or ambiguities. Despite the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and attendant workplace changes, these teams have continued to perform brilliantly throughout my tenure. They have been and continue to be a vital source of expertise to agencies across the executive branch.

OGE’s education team has also been hard at work supporting ethics officials in their roles and careers. They have expanded offerings and designed wholly new programs to make sure that the ethics leaders of tomorrow are well prepared to take over the reins, and strive to ensure that the ethics community resembles the diversity of the public it serves.

OGE’s compliance teams have increased the frequency of OGE reviews. They have refined methods and practices to make those reviews more useful and responsive to real-world challenges, and they have made the information they find easier for the public to access and understand.

OGE’s staff ably safeguards the important government resources entrusted to us, from timekeeping to appropriations to cybersecurity.

OGE’s team of experts were dedicated to these improvements on my first day as Director, and are yet even and ever more committed as I depart. They earned and they deserved the space and support given to do their work.

It has been a distinct honor to be entrusted with an organization as important as the United States Office of Government Ethics. I feel fortunate to have taken part in its journey, one that stretches back nearly 50 years. I am confident that OGE will continue to do its utter best every day in its efforts to protect and grow the trust between the American people and their government. I am supremely convinced that the experts who will carry on are up to their many tasks.

On this anniversary of our nation’s independence, I am grateful to have been able to serve the people of the United States. I am honored to have served alongside countless dedicated members and heroes of the armed forces and the oh-too-often unsung stars who are civil servants. I am confident for the future success of OGE, the executive branch ethics program, and our nation, and encourage each of you to support and even, perhaps, to join our efforts as part of our – your – government.