Why “Internal Affairs” is Important in Federal Agencies

View this article online at http://www.fedsmith.com/2012/11/15/internal-affairs-in-federal-agencies/
By • November 15, 2012 Comments

“Internal affairs” is not a reference to personal relationships between people in federal agencies. The term does refer to the investigators in agencies with a job of working to eliminate problems of waste, fraud abuse or other corrupt practices.

Popular TV shows portray the internal affairs organization of police or law enforcement  as an unpopular adjunct to an organization. The people are often seen as being outside the culture of the organization and may be the target of ridicule or abuse. There apparently is some truth to the popular stereotype, even in federal agencies. The topic is not one that gets much publicity and many readers probably prefer to ignore the topic and hope they are never the target of an internal investigation.

A retired federal employee who worked in the field for a number of years has now written a book on this function and offers advice and opinions that some in the internal affairs community will find controversial.

The author of Inside Internal Affairs writes: “People who had nothing to fear feared me or at least did not want to be around me. Once when I walked into a bustling lunchroom, conversation stopped and all heads went down…Such is life in the public sector for an internal affairs investigator.” He also noted that any organization needs an employee investigations section to protect the public, employees and the people within an agency. “To a large degree, the public image of the agency is determined by the quality of the internal affairs function in responding to allegations of misconduct by the agency or its employees.”

The book was written out of frustration, says the author, “because of the attitudes I encountered when I was involved in internal investigations….”

The frustration comes through in the description of how decisions are sometimes made in agencies. Author John F. Hein worked for the U.S. Customs Service for a number of years. A joke within the organization was that the agency had “over 200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress.” The agency also had a “good old boy” network that was alive and well. He describes the culture as one of “playing hard, fast and loose with few rules.” He also describes the agency as a “great place to work” and one in which there were sophisticated investigations conducted with considerable success. Based on recent events in another law enforcement agency, the U.S. Secret Service, one may assume that type of culture is not one that is unique to Customs.

He also observed that the Customs Service leadership lacked a “command presence” that respected the Internal Affairs function and that this led to “resistance, dislike and an expression of disapproval” for the function within the agency. One of the main points in the book is that “command presence” is “key to the many situations faced in the law enforcement profession…A positive or negative command presence by members of the internal affairs process can affect an officer’s attitude….”

Inside Internal Affairs is not written for a casual observer of the internal affairs function but for managers and those who are part of the internal affairs process. It describes, for example,  how those within the system have an influence on the internal affairs function of investigating employee wrongdoing. The internal affairs function is an arm of management that is sometimes used for self serving purposes rather than as a tool to protect an organization and everyone in it.

An employee who may be part of an investigation will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable.  For employees who may be investigated under this process,  the author offers the view of an insider who is confident that in most organizations there are internal affairs investigators who are caring and want to not only do what is best for the agency but also what is best for the employee.

No one wants to be investigated, but it is inevitable that when allegations are made an investigation will be conducted. An employer has the obligation to ensure ethical conduct by its employees. Of course, an allegation is only an accusation. Although many employees might believe internal affairs is out to get them, there are investigators who only want to undercover the truth to either prosecute the guilty or protect the innocent.

The book is thoroughly researched and replete with footnotes and additional resources, and those working in the profession or with some responsibility for an internal affairs organization will find it enlightening. It describes the function from top to bottom and how various forms of corruption can become a problem in an organization and how to recognize corruption before it becomes a dominant theme in an organization. It also discusses the role of unions, the role of senior management and how individuals within an organization may see their role and how they interact with internal agency investigators and summarizes numerous court decisions that can be significant to law enforcement. Each chapter also contains “Case Study Questions” and “suggested reading” material for those who may want more information. A compact disk, which includes test questions and an instructor’s guide, is also available to assist in the presentation of the subject matter.

The book is available for sale online.

© 2014 FedSmith Inc. All rights reserved. This copyrighted article may not be reproduced without express written consent of FedSmith Inc.

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About the Author (  |   )

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletter and a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters concerning federal human resources.

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