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Ethics Agreements: Road Maps for Good Governance

March 3, 2021

By: Chip Christopher

How can citizens know that their government leaders are following through on their ethics commitments? The answer: financial disclosure reports, ethics agreements, and ethics agreement compliance certifications.  

The system starts with the public financial disclosure report. This report allows the public to see the financial holdings and arrangements of senior officials and enables agency ethics officials to identify potential conflicts between these holdings or arrangements and the officials’ government duties.  

So, what happens when there is a conflict? Because disclosure alone doesn’t ensure the public interest is being served, the answer is ethics agreements. Ethics agreements are letters from senior officials to their agency ethics officials promising to take specific actions to avoid conflicts of interest. These actions may include selling assets, resigning from outside jobs, or refraining from working on government matters when the official might have a conflict. OGE makes these agreements available so that you, the public, can see the steps that incoming officials have agreed to take.

But, that leaves us with another question: how can we know that these officials have followed through on the commitments described in their ethics agreements? To make sure that they keep their commitments, they are required to certify, in writing, that they have taken all of the steps detailed in their ethics agreements. Using OGE’s Certification of Ethics Agreement Compliance form, they let their agency’s ethics office and OGE know that they have completed all required resignations and divestitures, and have implemented any necessary recusals. OGE makes these documents available so you can see when they have fulfilled their commitments.

OGE recently updated the Certification of Ethics Agreement Compliance form to address the ethics commitments required by Executive Order 13989, Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel, and remind incoming officials of their personal responsibility for complying with their ethics agreements. You can learn more about the updates to the form in our latest advisory, as well as see a copy of the updated Certification. You can see for yourself how senior leaders are complying with ethics requirements by searching our collection of public financial disclosure reports, ethics agreements, and compliance certifications.

Helping citizens have confidence in the integrity of their government is what we do. We hope you will take the time to take a look at the documents we make available to you, so you can see all of the steps your government leaders are taking to put the public interest first.