David Apol, the acting director of Office of Government Ethics, just reminded the Trump Administration to act ethically.
In a memorandum sent to all executive branch agency heads, Ethics head Apol made it clear that he wants ethical conduct from President Donald Trump’s cabinet.
“I am deeply concerned that the actions of some in Government leadership have harmed perceptions about the importance of ethics and what conduct is, and is not, permissible,” Apol wrote in his letter.
In the letter, Apol provides a “how to” guide in identifying ethical and unethical behavior.
Directly from the document, here are some suggestions Apol gave to department and agency heads:
Demonstrate personal ethical behavior by modeling a “Should I do it?” mentality
(versus a “Can I do it?” mentality)
Talk about the importance of ethics to your organization by including ethics themes
in speeches, communicating ethics priorities in memos, and recognizing the support
that ethics officials provide. For example:
o the Secretary of Defense recently stated his expectation that all employees
maintain high ethical standards
o the Secretary of Agriculture recently announced new ethics training initiatives
and encouraged employees to participate
Get to know your ethics program, and ensure that it is staffed by qualified personnel
and has sufficient resources
Include ethics officials in meetings of senior leaders
Recognize and praise honorable service by employees in your agency
Underscore the consequences to the organization and its mission of unethical
Promote a safe culture for reporting misconduct
Even though Apol didn’t directly target certain members of the presidential cabinet, he did allude to a select few under review from internal auditors.
Currently, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is under review once again by an inspector general regarding his travel habits while on official business.
The same goes for several other agency heads like Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Notably, the inquiry related to Zinke has brought to light questionable expenses that racked up on a trip to the state of Alaska. Allegedly, Zinke stayed at a local ski resort and ate at a steakhouse while using Interior Department resources to cover the tab on some of it. Cases like that Zinke and Mnuchin are dealing with are further complicating matters related to the mixture of political and official business while traveling.
Other criticism from federal watchdogs, like the congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO), have also mounted. Getting past the partisan backing of some of these accountability reports, some experts have concluded that the norm of “coordinating” with ethics and watchdog authorities is all but non-existent.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said resident scholar Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute to the Washington Post. Ornstein focuses on congressional and presidential accountability throughout his research. “This is definitely an in-your-face violation of norm,” Ornstein mentioned, citing his concern over the administration’s lack of response and coordination with watchdogs like GAO.