making local government more ethical
Richard W. Painter's Getting the Government America Deserves: How Ethics Reform Can Make a Difference (Oxford U.P., 2009) may be about the federal executive branch ethics program, but this excellent book also has a lot to offer to local government ethics. This is the first of three blog posts about this book, focusing on Painter's recommendations for ethics reform and how they could be applied to local government ethics programs.

Contractors et al.
Painter notes that those who oppose ethics program jurisdiction over government contractors argue that it is unnecessary because contract employees are not decisionmakers, company ethics policies are adequate, it is obvious when contract employees try to steer decisions to favor their employer's interests, and ethics oversight over contractors is burdensome and costly.

Citing a General Accounting Office report from 2008, Painter argues that contract employees have influence, even when they do not make decisions (and, I would add, they do sometimes make decisions), and that it is not obvious when they provide biased information (or, I would add, when they act in ways that benefit themselves or their employer).

One of the most frequent mistakes in the drafting of a government ethics code is prohibiting officials from having conflicts of interest. There is nothing wrong with an official having a conflict of interest. There is only something wrong with an official creating a conflict or failing to deal responsibly with a pre-existing conflict. As can be seen in Massachusetts, where such a prohibition has made big waves, the prohibition of having a conflict can cause serious problems.

On April 17, the District of Columbia ethics board filed recommendations for ethics reform with the council (see my blog post on the recommendations). Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie has introduced a bill that includes some of these recommendations (attached; see below). On October 7, a hearing on the bill will be held by the council's Committee on Government Operations.

For the most part, only the ethics board's miscellaneous recommendations are included in this bill. These were among its best recommendations. But the ethics program needs more than changes here and changes there, especially changes focused on enforcement. It needs to put the essential elements of a government ethics program into place. It's good to see that there is a commitment to continuing improvement, but it's not clear that there is a vision in the District of what the ethics program should be or of what the priorities are.

Here are the most important changes in the bill, with my comments.

Ethics provisions dealing with contracts often ignore subcontractors. This leaves open a big loophole, through which an official can get a big piece of a contract by hiding behind a contractor. This is part of a larger problem: ignoring indirect benefits.

According to an article put up last night on the St. Louis Beacon website, this problem arose this week in St. Louis County, which does not have a government ethics program (the state ethics commission has jurisdiction over county officials).

Should the Josephson Institute's Five Principles of Public Ethics be enforceable by a local government? And if not, why not?

Article I of Allen Park, MI's charter consists of the five Josephson Institute principles, plus one more about "congeniality and productivity." Here are the five Josephson principles:
It came to my attention in an interview with Professor James Svara, for a paper I am writing for the journal Public Integrity, that in March 2013, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) made substantial — sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, sometimes baffling — changes to its Code of Ethics (the revised code is attached; see below). This post will look at the changes that involve conflicts of interest.