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Project on Government Oversight

An Agency Reborn Joins Contractor Ethics Debate

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January 14, 2011

The Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) was reborn last year after fifteen years laying dormant. ACUS “is an independent federal agency dedicated to improving the administrative process through consensus-driven applied research, providing nonpartisan expert advice and recommendations for improvement of federal agency procedures.” Its motto is to “make the government work better.”

What is more surprising than its rebirth is the fact that ACUS is taking on government contractor ethics as one of its first projects. Based on a study conducted by Prof. Kathleen Clark, ACUS is considering recommendations to place restrictions on contractors that are similar to government employee ethics rules. Mr. Lynn, you might want to pay attention.

This isn’t a new issue, but one that is the subject of much debate. The Acquisition Advisory Panel (see the findings on p. 414) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have looked at contractor ethics issues. As a result, POGO has commented on numerous ethics rules for both individuals (this one also, which isn’t final) and organizations (here as well).

As some readers might recall, earlier this month the Department of Defense (DoD), too easily swayed by contractors arguing that competition would suffer, gutted its proposed organizational conflict of interest rule. It seems that the DoD and civilian agencies are buying into the claims that contractors can self-regulate and that the burdens and costs of a government-mandated contractor ethics system are too high.

Welcome back ACUS, your voice is much needed and appreciated. Considering the blended workforce of government and contractor employees making decisions and driving polices and programs, the public deserves assurance that the government is working in the interest of all and not the few. ACUS will have an uphill battle receiving a consensus on recommendations and convincing Congress and the Administration to act on them, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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