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Expansion of OGE’s Oversight of Agency Ethics Programs Through a New Inspections Process

July 18, 2014

by Walter M. Shaub, Jr.
As the executive branch’s supervising ethics office, OGE is responsible for evaluating the ethics programs of federal agencies. OGE’s Compliance Division carries out this responsibility by conducting program reviews, assessing agency compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements. Working closely with an agency’s ethics officials, OGE evaluates the agency’s ethics program and makes recommendations for systemic improvements. To support transparency of ethics in the executive branch, OGE has posted program review reports dating from 2005 to present on its website.

This year, OGE has expanded the reach of its oversight function by supplementing program reviews with inspections. Inspections are targeted examinations of key elements of an agency’s ethics program that are designed to identify systemic risks. As with program reviews, inspections often lead to constructive recommendations from OGE for mitigating program vulnerabilities. 

OGE is continuing to conduct traditional program reviews, but we now also conduct inspections at agencies we might not otherwise have been able to evaluate in a given year. Because inspections focus on select program elements, adding inspections to the tools available to OGE increases the number of agencies its staff can evaluate. Moreover, OGE may schedule an agency for a full program review if an inspection of that agency generates data suggesting potential systemic risks. The expanded capacity provided by the inspection process increases OGE’s onsite presence at federal agencies and, as a consequence, increases OGE’s capacity to detect systemic risks before problems arise.

OGE has just completed its first four inspections of agencies and has posted the resulting inspection data in the Program Management section of OGE’s website. OGE has already received positive feedback from agencies that underwent these inspections. For example, one agency expressed appreciation for the thoroughness and clarity of the inspection, while another commented that the inspection provided its ethics officials with “an opportunity for significant focus” on key elements of its program. It is apparent even at this early stage that inspections are going to enhance OGE’s oversight of the executive branch ethics program.