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Once Plagued by Scandal, Interior Dept. Promotes Good Ethics

Our Tabke Box

Longtime followers of the Project On Government Oversight will remember the days when it seemed like one ethics issue after another plagued the Department of the Interior. From government employees strolling through the revolving door to the infamously cozy relationship between staff and industry that resulted in allegations of drug use and sexual misconduct, the Department was rife with scandal just a few years ago.

POGO was a vocal advocate of departmental reform (and saw one of our major policy recommendations enacted by the Department in 2009), so we were happy to see signs of a more ethical Interior during our latest visit to the C Street headquarters. Copies of the Department’s ethics guide were available nearly everywhere we looked.

Ethics Book

Images from the Interior Department's Ethics Guide

The guide is presented as a “plain English” approach to the laws and regulations governing Interior Department employees, and covers everything from gambling (don’t do it on government property or while on duty) to accepting gifts (greeting cards are A-Okay).

For instance, the guide notes that employees can usually accept some small gifts (“coffee, donuts, other modest food items not offered as part of a meal”), while most gifts over $20 are prohibited (such as the “tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game” some employees accepted from industry in 2008).

This little guide also covers the revolving door, stating that the rules for seeking employment while working for the government are actually “more restrictive than most Federal employees realize.” In fact, employees can face criminal penalties if they don’t follow the rules.

(Of course, we don’t need this guide to tell us that government employees from various agencies have been known to bend the rules when it comes to getting a new job.)

We wish all government agencies had such handy, quick reference guides. But for those that don’t, or for those of you who prefer your ethics guides to have more of a ‘90s educational-video flair, the Office of Government Ethics YouTube page has got you covered.

Images by Pam Rutter.

By: Mia Steinle
Investigator, POGO

Mia Steinle, Investigator Mia Steinle is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight and the civil society coordinator for the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Her work focuses on government management of the oil, gas, and mining industries.

Topics: Energy and Natural Resources

Related Content: Department of Interior Oversight, Ethics

Authors: Mia Steinle

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