The acting director of the Office of Government Ethics sent a letter recently to heads of federal agencies reminding them that they are responsible for the “ethical culture” within their organizations.
“The priorities that you set, the messages that you deliver, and the actions that you take demonstrate your level of commitment to ethics in Government,” wrote David J. Apol. “Your personal conduct sets a powerful example for the employees in your organization.”
Apol said in his letter that agency leaders should demonstrate ethical behavior by having a “Should I do it?” mentality as opposed to a “Can I do it mentality.” He said that while he is grateful for the commitment to ethical service from the majority of agency leaders, he is concerned about the recent decisions on the part of some.
Apol concluded his letter by stating, “The public’s trust is not guaranteed. We must earn that trust every day, because the loss of that trust is catastrophic. I want to personally thank you for your service and your work to earn and secure the public’s trust.”
Recent Causes for Concern
The letter likely is in reference to the negative publicity generated by some high profile agency leaders that recently took expensive trips on the taxpayers’ dime. The most prominent incident was from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price whose use of private jets racked up bills to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The incident ultimately cost Price his job since he resigned as HHS secretary shortly after the news broke.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also recently announced it will begin disclosing details about its secretary’s business trips in response to a critical report about Dr. David J. Shulkin’s recent trip to Europe that mixed business and pleasure.
Treasury Department secretary Steven Mnuchin was also investigated by the agency’s Inspector General for trips he took totaling just over $800,000. He was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the IG said in its memo that it was concerned about “a disconnect between the standard of proof called for by [procedures] and the actual amount of proof provided by Treasury and accepted by the White House in justifying these trip requests.”
The report also said that future travel will need justification in “great detail.”
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget weighed in on the suspect travel incidents in a memo sent to agency leaders which echoed what OGE’s letter stated.
“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right,” wrote OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. “All travel…to meet mission requirements…shall require approval from the White House Chief of Staff.” Mulvaney said details on the new approval process would be forthcoming.