Scandals are the meat and potatoes of the media and the bread and circuses of the people. Although many of the worst scandals involving criminal and unethical behavior have occurred in banking, the utilities, and the oil and coal industries, only government apologists claim their scandals can be avoided by "new ethical training programs." This is a reflexive response arising from a history of federal laws, copied by the states, which require that the heads of all government agencies be responsible for the ethical standards of their members. Congress has authority for ethics oversight, but ethics enforcement is self-administered and has no punitive foundation.
Ethics in Homeland Security, the Military and Interior
On May 17, 2012, a House Homeland Security subcommittee heard testimony on incidents of misconduct and criminal behavior of Department of Homeland Security(DHS) employees who were engaging in illegal and unethical behavior.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, said in his opening statement at the hearing: "Since 2004, over 130 agents of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have been arrested, charged, or otherwise prosecuted on corruption charges. Allegations and convictions include alien and drug smuggling, money laundering, and conspiracy," he said. "Even though there are stacks of [federal] government manuals, training materials and yearly briefings about ethics, lapses continue.
In November 2012, The New York Times reported: "In the midst of a scandal that has ensnared Petraeus, one of the most prominent generals of his generation as well as the current NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has ordered the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review ethics training programs for senior officers, Pentagon officials said on Thursday."
The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, lost his job when he criticized several top Obama administration officials. McChrystal also admitted that US forces kill innocent Afghans at military checkpoints. He said, "We've shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."
In June 2010, Obama fired McChrystal for ethical misbehavior and, appointed Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, closing the circle on ethical generals.
The Army has never explained why, when it got rid of all of its horses, it kept the horses' asses.
After the Sex for Oil scandal, a two-year investigation by the US Department of Interior's Office of Inspector General found that Minerals Management Service employees who were responsible for oversight of offshore drilling and other mining and drilling permits reportedly engaged in various forms of unethical or criminal conduct, including sex and drug use, with energy company employees.
Two years after being appointed Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar said, "What President Obama asked me to do when he brought me there was to reform the department and fix problems." Wearing cowboy boots and a hat, Salazar introduced a new ethics code discouraging "even the appearance of impropriety."
Continuing Ethics Problems in Nonprofits
Ethics scandals in prominent nonprofit organizations have resulted in changing federal legislation of the Internal Revenue Service. At issue are the reporting requirements for exempt nonprofits on Form 990 and the corruption that Form 990 indirectly allows in the administration of enormous tax-exempt assets.
As of 2006, 1.5 million nonprofits held $3 trillion in assets.
In 2004, the commissioner of internal revenue testified before the US Senate Finance Committee: "We at the IRS also have seen an apparent increase in the use of tax-exempt organizations as parties to abusive transactions. All these reflect potential issues of ethics, internal oversight, and conflicts of interest."
"As a result," said the commissioner, "the IRS is currently looking for greater transparency in revising Form 990 for tax-exempt organizations."
Ethics in Other Branches of Government
The US has hundreds of laws and statutes dealing with ethics and more than 5,000 federal employees at more than 130 federal agencies charged with interpreting them.
The authority of Congress to discipline its members is found in the Constitution, which states, "Each House determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member."
By 2004, the House had heard 150 cases of members accused of crimes. 12 of those members were convicted, but not expelled. Although the House is forgiving of its own failings, it has impeached 12 federal judges and two executives.
A New Era of Resolutions and Laws, Ethics and Conduct, Codes and Committees
During the 85th Congress in 1958, Congress for the first time adopted a general Code of Ethics for Government Service for officials and employees in the three branches of government. The standards in the ten-point code are still considered ethical guidance in the House and Senate, although they were adopted by Congressional resolution rather than law and are therefore not legally binding.
The history of the ten-item code of ethics is similar to the history of the ten items carved in stone and given to Moses to schlep down the mountain. Neither document is obeyed or taken seriously by any politician.
Until the 1960s, there were no permanent Congressional ethics committees and no codes of ethics specific to the separate branches of government.
In 1964, the Select Committee on Standards and Conduct was authorized to investigate allegations of improper conduct in the Senate. In 1967, the House established the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
The Judicial Conference of the United States on April 5, 1973, adopted a code of ethics for the federal bench. The new Code of Judicial Conduct for United States' Judges was designed to apply to all judges on the federal level except Supreme Court Justices, whose compliance would be voluntary. The 670 judges of the federal judiciary would not be obligated by law to obey the new code, due to protection afforded by constitutional guarantees of salary and of life terms. But their compliance was expected.
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