In a memo to agency heads, the acting director and general counsel for the Office of Government Ethics, David Apol, expressed concern that “actions by government leadership have harmed perceptions about the importance of ethics” within the federal government, and he stressed the importance of ethical behavior by leadership.
“I encourage you to consider action to re-double your commitment to ethics in government,” wrote Apol. “The citizens we serve deserve to have confidence in the integrity of their government. The public’s trust is not guaranteed. We must earn that trust every day because the loss of that trust is catastrophic.”
Though the memo does not specify what the harmful behavior was, the Trump administration has recently been plagued with scandal and criticism over agency secretaries’ use of private jets and government aircraft.
The Office of Government Ethics has clashed with the Trump administration in the past, as former Director Walter Shaub Jr. told NPR after his July resignation that “the ethics program needs to be stronger than it is,” and affirmed his commitment to improving government ethics from the outside.
“It is essential to the success of our republic that citizens can trust that your decisions and the decisions made by your agency are motivated by the public good and not by personal interests,” Apol wrote.
The memo encouraged agency leaders to model a “should I do it?” over a “can I do it?” mentality, and praised the secretaries of Defense and Agriculture for including ethics in recent statements and initiatives.
“I am grateful to agency leaders who have demonstrated their commitment to ethical service,” Apol wrote.
The memo also suggests that agency leadership get familiar with their ethics programs and include them in meetings with senior leaders. It calls for praise for ethically behaving employees as well as a safe environment for reporting unethical behavior.
“You are ultimately responsible for the ethical culture within your organization. The priorities you set, the messages that you deliver and the actions that you take demonstrate your level of commitment to ethics in government,” wrote Apol. “Your personal conduct sets a powerful example for the employees in your organization.”