22 July 2013

For Wellingtonians discombobulated with the earthquakes on Sunday, some light relief relevant to the theme of this blog can be found in the 2013 edition of The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure prepared by the United States Department of Defense.  Matt Lane drew my attention to the updated collation of crime, greed, and stupidity across the United States Government,  published last week.  As a training resource, it has always be accessible as a MS document on the Defense website, but has been promoted now on the Freakonomics site.

The encyclopedia comprises short accounts of misconduct by more than 160 employees across the US Government.  The circumstances are all entertaining – to the extent that looking at the misfortunes of others is entertainment.  The purpose of course is to provide training material that conveys the integrity message through  pertinent, memorable and genuine examples.  The Introduction highlights a goal of providing real examples of Federal employees who have intentionally or unwittingly violated required standards of conduct. Some cases are humorous, some sad, and all are real. It recognises that some will anger you if you are a government employee and some will anger you as a taxpayer. There is a message in them all.

The examples reflect mismanaged conflicts of interest; of putting personal advantage ahead of the commitment to the community expected of all who work in public service. All provide useful talking points of what is the ‘right way’ of managing work responsibilities. They show how all agencies present opportunities to abuse power and position. By inference integrity is what makes the difference.  In none of the cases would a reasonable person suggest that the offending employee was acting in the public interest. In all cases the spirit of service has been subverted by self interest.

A reference to these US Defense resources were included in early SSC guidance on implementing the code of conduct.  The relevance continues. The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure  has topical examples that all managers can use to give effect to at least two of the “6 Trust Elements”, of “promoting the standards of integrity” and “managers modeling” those standards.