To Fly or Not to Fly, That is the Question
Each year the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) holds an essay contest on ethics. The following problem was presented to contest entrants: As the procurement official for your entity, you aware that any unethical conduct could reflect not only on the agency, also on yourself. It has been brought to your attention that frequent flyer miles have been accrued by directors and managers for flights for work related trips, however, some of the frequent flyer miles have been used for personal trips notrelated to work. How should you approach this issue? To whom, and what corrective action should be taken? Due diligence and perseverance caught the attention of the judges of the 8th Annual Ethics Essay Contest.
Knowledge of the agency’s policies around the use of frequent flyer miles will help to determine the appropriateness of personal utilization of frequent flier miles. Investigation of the legitimacy of the allegations and information received is prudent due diligence. The public has the right to have complete confidence in the integrity of the government upon which they rely. Every governmental office has an obligation to honor that trust and act with the utmost propriety and integrity. All official actions must be conducted in such a way that nothing can be perceived as having anything but the public’s interest in mind.
“When it comes to trust, perception is reality. It is not enough that we do no wrong, we must also try to assure that others believe we have done no wrong.” 1
Using the chain of command established by law, rule, or policy the purchasing officer must seek out agency official(s) not involved in the allegations, who have insight and can take action on the allegations, including a thorough investigation of the allegations. A thorough discussion of the impact on the public perception, the perception of the other employees, and the actions of the professionals involved in the misuse allegations should be held. Actions relate directly to the agency policy and influence those who view the actions of management as acceptable and policy setting.
The purchasing officer should remain involved and informed to ensure appropriate action is taken. He should be available to collaborate with the agency official(s) during the investigation to assist in determining appropriate action, even disciplinary action if necessary. The purchasing officer should make recommendations for the most effective and efficient way to correct the situation. Having the offenders acknowledge the misuse and/or disregard of the agency policy and subsequent disregard of the public trust would be appropriate if a conviction of impropriety is upheld.
“The notions of responsibility and duty impose on all public servants special obligations outlined in the Five Principles of Public Service Ethics:
- Public Interest—Public office is a trust to be used only to advance public interests, not personal gain.
- Independent Objective Judgement—Decisions made on the merits, free of partiality or prejudice and unimpeded by conflicts of interest.
- Accountability—Government is to be conducted openly, efficiently, equitably and honorably so the public can make informed judgements and hold public officials accountable.
- Democracy—Honor and respect democratic principles; observe letter and spirit of laws.
- Respectability—Safeguard public confidence in integrity of government by avoiding appearances of impropriety and conduct unbefitting a public official.” 2
Public Officials are honor bound to choose the ethical path and to report all inappropriate behaviors. This means choosing between options in accordance with ethical principles. Everything we say or do makes a difference that starts a chain reaction affecting the actions and decisions of all others that follow.
Public Officials must use strategies to make ethical decisions, including the following what if tests: What if my decision was reported on the front page of the newspaper; What if what I did was on the evening news; What if my mother heard about it, would it make her proud; What if my child asked me what to do about a similar situation, what would I advise my child to do; What if everyone did it, would it be a good thing?
If in going up the chain of command the purchasing officer discovers that agency official(s) are unwilling to appropriately address the issue by confronting the offenders with the severity of this type of action from any employee, but especially a management employee (if the purchasing officer is told to ignore it), then the purchasing officer is honor bound to continue to address the issue himself. This may include taking the allegations to the state’s ethics commission, the governor’s office, or a whistle blower organization—wherever the purchasing officer can find someone who is willing to address the issue and has the authority to take the necessary and appropriate action.
Finally, if the allegations were upheld and lead to a conviction, it would be appropriate to notify the professional purchasing organizations, such as National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP), National Association of State Purchasing Officials (NASPO), and Institute of Supply Management (ISM), so appropriate professional sanctions can be applied.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” 3
Kelly Stoll, CPPB-OPBC, is a Procurement and Contracts Specialist 2, State of Oregon, Department of Human Services, Office of Contracts and Procurement.
- Ethics in Public Service (GOV 1097 © Josephson Institute of Ethics) (Slide #13).
- Ethics in Public Service (GOV 1097 © Josephson Institute of Ethics) (Slide #54).
- Edmund Burke, Ethical Decision Making (GOV 1097 © Josephson Institute of Ethics) (Slide #52).