Think Again: It's time to refocus on government standards and ethics

Having been raised in a family where playing by the rules, sticking to principles and maintaining ethical values was the way you do things -- similar standards have served as my guide throughout my career.

In the company where I’ve worked the past decade, I started in the Ethics and Compliance Department, which focuses on building an ethical culture and educating employees about standards of conduct expected of them based on the company’s values.

In that position I learned about the ethical challenges in organizations and the need to invest in constantly reinforcing a set of values. The actions of a small set of employees, or even a single employee, can severely harm the reputation of an otherwise good organization and thus break the public’s trust.

Trust is delicate, it takes a long time to establish, but when broken can evaporate almost instantly.

Even with my in-depth work in the ethics field and crisis communications, where I have been exposed to many situations of ethical breaches, recent stories have left me speechless.

In April, Secret Service agents and military Special Forces, while on official duty doing advance work for the president’s visit in a drug cartel infested place like Cartagena, Columbia, got drunk at a local bar and took prostitutes back to their hotel. Not just one of them, but a dozen of them, including “supervisors.”

How off-balance must things be in the Secret Service for such a thing to be possible, especially in the president’s protection detail, considered an elite and specially-trained part of the service?

Several Secret Service agents have been fired as a result, but now there is evidence surfacing in the investigation that similar behavior may also have been prevalent among Drug Enforcement Agency personnel operating in Columbia.

Isn’t having the public’s trust the most critical component for any law enforcement organization?

Around the same time, the federal government’s inspector general, Brian Miller, exposed excesses at the General Services Administration, which is responsible for managing $66 billion worth of federal government purchasing each year, in addition to managing federal buildings and a 210,000-vehicle fleet, among other things.

In this case, the GSA spent more than $820,000 for a conference in Las Vegas. Employees also had eight “pre-conference organizing trips” to Vegas, parties in luxury suites, and misappropriation of electronic devices bought for the conference -- and the list goes on.

An organization’s ethical culture starts with the tone set at the top. What example were leaders in these organizations setting? We don’t have a shortage of similar cases in our state government and examples in various cities.

It’s time for a renewed focus on ethical standards, training and culture-building in all organizations, especially in government.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t address ethics issues in the city of Glendale recently raised in the news, the newspaper’s conflict of interest rules do not allow me to cover such issues in my column because of my position as president of the Glendale Water & Power Commission.

I must leave those issues for readers to judge on their own.

ZANKU ARMENIAN is a resident of Glendale and a corporate communications and public affairs professional.  He can be reached at zanku.armenian@gmail.com.

 

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