September 27, 2013
by Walter M. Shaub, Jr.
Welcome to the Director’s Notes. We have created this new feature so I can talk to you directly about the ethics program in the executive branch of the Federal government.
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is the supervising ethics office for the executive branch, ensuring that the public can have confidence in the integrity of government. Our work is predicated on the principle that public service is a public trust. We help government officials live up to that principle.
This summer, I was with a small group of agency heads who met at the White House to hear the President discuss his new management agenda. The President challenged us to meet the demands of this initiative, and I am happy to report that OGE is well-positioned to do so.
First, we are building a more innovative and accountable government by ensuring that the government’s highest-level leaders are free of conflicts of interest. You can see this in our work with Presidential nominees for Senate-confirmed positions. Thanks to a reinvention of our processes, OGE is reviewing financial disclosures and establishing ethics agreements better and faster than ever before. As a result, OGE cleared nearly 1,500 prospective nominees in the President’s first term and has kept up a similar pace in the second term.
OGE is also using technology to further streamline the financial disclosure process, not only for nominees but for all of the executive branch’s 28,000 public filers. We are developing an electronic filing system featuring an advanced question-and-answer “wizard” to increase the accuracy of financial disclosures while reducing the burden on prospective recruits for public office. To give taxpayers the most bang for their buck, we have teamed up with OMB’s Budget Formulation & Execution Line of Business to develop a universal data collection tool. When we are done, we will have produced not only an electronic financial disclosure system, but also a tool that will allow other agencies to create electronic data collection systems more cheaply and more effectively than before.
Second, OGE is saving the taxpayers money. You can see this in the training we deliver to the executive branch’s 5,500 ethics officials. To give them the skills they need at the lowest cost, OGE is leveraging technology to supplement traditional classroom training with virtual learning environments, remote access to training materials, collaborative sites for sharing between agencies, and an advanced “train the trainer” program that empowers OGE-certified trainers at other agencies to conduct OGE-developed training. Building on lessons learned from these efforts, OGE is working on an innovative education summit for ethics officials to be held in 2014. This will replace OGE’s National Government Ethics Conference with a month-long series of training events at a fraction of the cost.
Third, OGE is increasing transparency by making more ethics-related information available to the public. For example, OGE has significantly increased the availability of ethics documents on its website – including documents related to the Ethics Pledge. In addition, OGE has successfully implemented the STOCK Act’s mandate for prompt public reporting of certain financial transactions. OGE has also expanded its communications efforts by broadening its use of social media and more actively engaging key stakeholders.
In sum, the ethics program is thriving, and OGE is working hard to find new ways to make it even better. I will be updating the Director’s Notes regularly, so please be sure to join me here to read more about OGE and its programs.