Is it time to come out of your cubicle?
In the eyes of some people, the government is the last place to look for examples of ethical behavior. It’s easy to see why some people come to that conclusion. The news seems to be filled with stories of public officials abusing their power, wasting taxpayer dollars and engaging in unethical and outright deplorable behavior.
I won’t get into a discussion of what should and shouldn’t be considered news. But we all know that the general public is far more likely to remember the sordid allegations of a toe-tapping senator soliciting gay sex in an airport restroom than the riveting tale of a dedicated procurement director who puts in extra hours to make sure that taxpayers get the best value out of a new contract for the purchase of zero-turn lawnmowers.
Clearly, we shouldn’t ignore stories of government excess, waste and fraud. The court of public opinion needs to hold public officials accountable. That’s why, in recent months, GovPro.com has reported that:
- A House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform analysis of federal procurement data asserted that procurement spending, fraud and the number of no-bid contracts in 2006 rose to unprecedented levels. According to the analysis, 187 contracts—valued at $1.1 trillion—“have been plagued by waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.”
- An Army major, his wife and his sister were arrested for taking part in an alleged scheme in which the Army major accepted millions of dollars in bribes—in exchange for Department of Defense contracts in Iraq and Kuwait—and his wife and sister laundered the money.
- Prompted by a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study in which the GAO concluded that $146 million in taxpayer dollars were wasted through improper use of premium-class air travel from July 2005 to June 2006, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed an amendment that was created to halt what its sponsors believe is widespread air-travel abuse by federal employees.
While it’s important to expose government wrongdoing to the light of day, I believe that it’s just as important to spotlight public employees (and agencies) who have demonstrated a commitment to professionalism, integrity and ethics. Beginning in December, former National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) President Darin Matthews will do just that, in a regular feature that will be called “Profiles in Procurement.” If there’s someone that you’d like to nominate—a colleague, a mentor or even yourself—we’d love to hear from you. Drop me an e-mail at email@example.com.
In this month’s issue, Eileen Miller poignantly reminds us that “the ethical fiber” of the NIGP Code of Ethics “compels us to do the right thing.” “It might even be construed to mean that we are governed by a strong sense of obligation to mentor those with whom we interact—at all levels of the organization and within our community,” Miller says.
Miller, whose piece won NIGP’s 11th Annual Ethics Essay Contest, asserts that it is her ethical obligation to share the lessons that she has learned as a procurement officer—as well as the life lessons that she learned while growing up on her family’s cherry orchard—with others in her profession.
“Sharing the lessons I’ve learned as a procurement officer will ensure that my organization’s training dollars continue to be well-spent,” Miller says. “It’s an obligation.”
In other words, the knowledge that you gain throughout your career in procurement—including your “heightened olfactory sense” to sniff out “unscrupulous behavior, regulatory circumventions, collusion, fragmenting or sharp practices”—needs to be shared with colleagues, customers and constituents.
“Locking that knowledge away equates to burying your money and is contrary to achieving best value for your agency,” Miller says.
My hunch is that most of you already take ethics very seriously. You wouldn’t be reading this magazine—or taking a class or attending a professional development conference—if you didn’t believe deeply in your fiduciary obligation to achieve “best value” for the taxpayers and agencies that your serve.
However, as Miller intimates, carrying out your job responsibilities in an ethical manner is only half the battle. The procurement work force—like just about every other profession—is aging, and Miller points to the obligation of those currently in the profession “to share and train the next generation.” That’s just one reason why, Miller says, you should view ethics with a wider lens.
“If you’re one of your agency’s best-kept secrets, perhaps it’s time you came out of your cubicle,” Miller says.
The future success of the procurement profession might depend on it.