Ethical Leadership & Building an Ethical Culture

Ethical leadership and building an ethical culture are key components of the executive branch ethics program. Culture is the sum of the behaviors, norms, values, beliefs, rituals, and stories, shared by members of an organization. It is one of the strongest drivers of behavior. Ethics officials can take concrete steps to help build ethical culture and assist leaders in supporting it.


Nominee Guide (PDF)

This guide provides prospective and current Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees with information to help them lead our country with honor and integrity. The section “Being an Ethical Leader” addresses how leaders can serve as an advocate for government integrity and an ethical role model.

A Memo to Heads of All Executive Branch Agencies (COVID-19) (PDF)

In this memo, OGE’s Director asks agency heads to take affirmative steps to remind their agency officials and employees of the importance of ethics in government during the pandemic.

A Memo to Heads of All Executive Branch Agencies (DAEO/ADAEO Designations) (PDF)

In this memo, OGE’s Director reminds agency heads of their responsibility to foster an ethical culture and to ensure the success of their agency’s ethics program by appointing qualified individuals to serve as the agency’s Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) and Alternate DAEO.

A Memo to Heads of all Executive Branch Agencies (PDF)

In this memo, OGE’s Director emphasizes the importance of strong ethical leadership and states that OGE stands ready to help agency heads fulfill their missions of ensuring the public’s trust in a government free from conflicts of interest.

Agency Practices

As the supervising ethics office, OGE has insight into the methods, procedures, and practices of over 140 agency ethics programs and seeks to highlight these practices as a resource for improving ethics programs across the executive branch. The following practices are gathered from OGE program reviews, agency responses to Annual Agency Ethics Program Questionnaires and data calls, and OGE summits and conferences. While no single approach is one-size-fits-all, ethics officials may find other agencies’ practices useful to the effective and efficient administration of their own ethics program.

  • Leadership models a commitment to ethical behavior by communicating the steps they have personally taken to ensure full compliance with the ethics laws, such as publicizing their timely filing of financial disclosure documents, their attendance at ethics trainings, and the steps they have taken to mitigate conflicts of interest.
  • The agency head records a message to employees about the importance of ethics to the agency’s mission. Include the video in initial and annual ethics training and post online.
  • Issue a letter on the importance of the agency’s and the employee’s ethical commitment. Publicize the letter on the agency intranet, webpage, or in an agency newsletter.
  • Include ethics as a performance standard for agency leadership.
  • Include ethics officials in senior staff meetings in order to help identify potential ethics issues regarding agency programs.
  • Confer with ethics officials prior to implementing new agency programs, policies, or procedures to determine if there are potential ethical implications.
  • Inform employees of the importance of reporting observed misconduct. Ensure that employees are cognizant of the appropriate channels for reporting misconduct, and promote awareness of protections available to employees who report misconduct.