Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, looks at ethical dilemmas, scandals, and best practices in government.
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Friday, Jul. 22, 2011
He insists it wasn’t an act of retaliation, but the congressman who proposed a 40% cut in the budget of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was a target of an ethics investigation last year.
Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina said he supported the amendment because “the work by the ethics office is at times abusive, causing unnecessary embarrassment of House members.” Rep. Steve King of Iowa went even further with his criticism, accusing the ethics office of violating “Roman law, English common law, and the decency of the House.”
The vote was 102-302, and members were forced to go on the record rather than voting by voice. Acknowledging there may be some problems with the OCE, one congressman said the cuts were not the answer. Rep. Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts called the cuts “draconian punishment” that look like an attempt to say “We’re the boss; you’re not.”
The ethics office can investigate but not punish House members, and has looked into charges levied against both parties. While Mr. Watt’s case was referred to the committee, no charges were ever filed against him.
Legislation seeking to silence ethical checks and balances only serves to add to the perception that all politicians are crooks. Whether it is the OCE or a local ethics commission doing the work, it’s good to remember the words of Sophocles: “Don’t kill the messenger.”
Monday, May. 2, 2011
When Nevada Senator John Ensign made his farewell speech in the Senate chambers he was virtually alone. None of the other senators were in attendance.
The joy and promise he felt when taking his oath of office provided a sharp contrast to his final words to his constituents, colleagues, and the public.
“When one takes a position of leadership, this is a very real danger of getting caught up in the hype surrounding that status. Oftentimes, the more power and prestige a person achieves, the more arrogant a person can become,” Ensign said.
In his comments he mentioned other colleagues who had resigned in shame, admitting that it was easy to see their faults but impossible to see his own. He referred to himself as” arrogant and self-centered” and had words of caution for others who serve in public office.
“My caution to all of my colleagues,” he said, “is to surround yourself with people who will be honest with you about how you really are and what you are becoming, and then make them promise to not hold back, no matter how much you may try to prevent them, from telling you the truth.”
My observation over the years has shown me how easy it is to listen to your friends, and how difficult it is to resist suggestions from well-meaning supporters.
But the true test of a friend is someone who has the courage to tell you the unvarnished truth – without weighing in about your re-election. And in return for such wise counsel, consider it carefully when you say “thank you.”
Friday, Apr. 29, 2011
We’ve heard a lot lately about air traffic controllers falling asleep at work. They join a long list of other professionals who have this job-related challenge. Who are these sleep-deprived individuals? Long-haul truck drivers, medical residents and interns, and – don’t laugh – elected officials.
Speaking from experience, it is nearly impossible to focus on the details of a complex municipal bond offering at 2 a.m. It is even more difficult to have an intelligent discussion and make a decision, no matter how hard you tried to stay awake.
Late-night meetings are a standard in some communities, and a rarity in others. Lots of factors come into play. Is there a public hearing with a packed council chambers of speakers? Did the elected officials make long speeches instead of asking pertinent questions? Were there too many coffee breaks? Or did the agenda have too many items to cover in a reasonable amount of time?
The phenomenon occurs at all levels of government. Redistricting decisions in state capitols have been made in the wee hours of the morning. And more than one key vote has taken place in Congress before the sun had a chance to rise.
What is the solution? It would be simple to say “better time management,” but I know that is not the answer. We need to urge our legislators to accept that science shows we all function better when we have a good night’s sleep. We think more clearly, are more articulate, and have overall better health.
Who knows? Maybe with a few more hours of sleep there will be fewer cranky legislators and better legislation.
Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
A pledge is defined as a binding contract, a promise, or an agreement. The Republicans begin their majority rule in Congress today with “A Pledge to America
,” a document describing, “a new governing agenda.”
At a time when partisan divisiveness is causing even more public cynicism, I read carefully the language in the pledge. I do not deny that these are times that call for difficult decisions, reforms, and a renewed faith in government. But I don’t believe that words like “unchecked executive, compliant legislature, and overreaching judiciary” are the best way to describe those who don’t agree with you. Similar sentiments were expressed in the last Congress, and seem to be de rigueur.
How about a pledge from both sides of the aisle for greater respect for differing opinions? Is it too much to ask that our government leaders check their party affiliation at the door and work collaboratively to address the tough issues?
With each change in majority/minority status in Congress we have the chance to do things differently. We have the ability to return to civility, cooperation, and commitment.
As the pledge states, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”