July 6, 2017

Ethics Defections

It's hard to imagine that it was just over four months ago that I talked about the real problem with the Trump administration. It was not Russia, I said.
The Trump administration, in its infancy, is a swamp.
It's the kind of swamp where everything that is officially called out as being unethical is either an accident or, more commonly, completely ignored. This is particularly true if the notification comes from the Office of Government Ethics. (More on that in a minute)

It's that, and more.
The Trump administration is a swamp of people who think that running America is the same as running a big old family business. One where obfuscation and diversion and dismissal and deflection are the norm. One where, knowingly or ignorantly, rules are skirted, or it's pretended that there are no rules. Where the moral compass is provided by the man in the mirror, or by the same man in the corner office, or by other members of the family, or handpicked associates, without external scrutiny.
Chant with me: #DraintheSwamp #DraintheSwamp.

Hui Chen was, until late June, the Compliance Counsel in the Department of Justice's Criminal Fraud Division. I'm familiar with Chen and her work from my day job, where I have the opportunity to research best practices in the world of ethics and compliance.

Her arrival at the DOJ back in 2015 was incredibly well received by experts, consultants and thought leaders in the ethics and compliance world. After all, Chen had come from the practitioner side of the house, having worked at both Pfizer and Microsoft. Real world experience is what she brought to the table, in how she helped evaluate companies, their E+C programs, and issues of noncompliance.

Until she quit, several days ago, and several months before her contract was up. In a Linked In post, Chen provided some insight on why she left. Here's an excerpt:
First, trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome. To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very  much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic. Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States... Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct(s). I wanted no more part of it.
Now, some have questioned whether Chen's politics - she's participated in protests wearing 'Resist' clothing and holding a sign exhorting people to support the Constitution (the nerve!) - were the real reason why she left. And, she did indicate future plans include helping elect ethical candidates for public office.

But all of that notwithstanding, in the final analysis, I believe she walked the walk and talked the talk.

It's hard for me to imagine that Donald Trump would still be employed at any company I've worked for - not the family owned business, not the industry leader, and not my current employer. Not because of his politics, but because his behavior, his words, and his actions are inconsistent with anything any of these companies would consider ethical. So are the behaviors, words and actions of many he chose to bring into the government.

As the folks at Radical Compliance pointed out,
In the corporate world, if a CEO under investigation for misconduct violations fired the in-house counsel investigating him, the board would have his scalp. We would all be attending our compliance industry conferences, lecturing ourselves about best practices, and saying that the compliance officer at that organization should take the brave step and resign.
At the top of the post, I mentioned the Office of Government Ethics. We've heard more about, and from, that group since Trump won the election I think, than ever before.

Earlier today, the OGE's director, Walter Shaub Jr, tendered his resignation, effective on July 19th. In an interview, Shaub noted
There isn't much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation. OGE's recent experiences have made it clear that the ethics programs needs to be strengthened. 
Indeed, they do.

How long before others follow Chen and Shaub out of government service and into arenas where differences can be made?