Thursday, October 28, 2010

CORRUPTION-- Some History

A recent world-wide survey by a responsible organization indicates that the US has dropped out of the top 20 nation-states with the LEAST official corruption.

Unfortunately, computer security has become an arena for corruption with a very hit and miss system in the US Government that theoretically is controlled by OMB Guidance from an internal control system established by OMB Circular A-120. The cross-over from those that can access and manipulate government computer systems and those who cannot which is basic to any internal controls system is frequently a weak system. GAO no longer truly audits the books of agencies since the rise of the Inspector Generals under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended. Unfortunately, in a major gift to major contracts, the corrupt DCAA [Defense Contract Audit Agency] in DOD has most of the major contractors under its audit authority not just for major defense contractors but also for most large civil agencies. The actual result is few audits of consequence and contractors reviewed by DCAA are largely free agents and unlikely to face serious financial audits. Another new trick in recent years is that contractors have gotten the government to agree that computer systems and processes developed with governmnet funds are the proprietary data of the contractor and not owned by the government. Thus, efforts to recompete contracts are hobbled by this factor.

I was the Ethics program official in FEMA from 1992-1999 and was witness to the failures of a system designed by OGE [Office of Government Ethics] and independent federal agency to enforce their regulatory scheme through agency and department ethics officials. During those years not a single OGE regulatory change occurred that tightened the rules and all were in fact directed at less strict enforcement.

One of my tasks was to review the incoming financial posture of new Presidential appointees arriving in FEMA, including Non-career SES. Often this involved personalized financial planning, not one of my strengths, so that these individuals would not start behind the eight-ball so to speak. A significant number had back tax issues and these were from both parties. Ethics Officials, including OGE however are not given access to tax returns or credit information. A major failure in the system. Nor are debts listed by appointees or incoming personnel automatically.

Oddly each Senate Committee that holds the power to begin the Advise and Consent process has its own forms and procedures for review nominees.

Perhaps strangely, I have long been an advocate of decriminalizing the federal ethics rules and this is based on the absolute inability of the DOJ [Department of Justice} Public Integrity Office to provide guidance to the OGE and agency ethics officers on their processes and procedures.

A standard case in my FEMA years was a high ranking official receiving reimbursement for travel expenses from the government while also being advanced or reimbursed funds from a private sector organization. The conflicts of interest and favoritism of certain organizations who receive the benefits of high ranking officials speeches and other favors should be looked at closely. Personally I would adopt a rule no FEDERAL officer or employee can attend or give a speech to any group that does not allow open press access and make that speech available. Long ago this was the rule in the Treasury Department when I was there but no longer applies anywhere in the Executive Branch.

Before FEMA had a statutory IG, which was from 1979-1989, and coverage of that statute was opposed by non other that the non-statutory IG himself, there was almost no example of a successful internal investigation of corruption in FEMA and almost no recognition of how the system could be manipulated for personal financial gain. Several times I offered to help the OIG develop manuals which would allow the Audit, Inspection, and Investigation staff detect fraud, waste and abuse and was turned down flatly by both my GC and the IG.

The most famous Pas de Deux in FEMA history involved a Director who received kickbacks from FEMA contractors for expensive attendance at political events where most or all of the attendees bought their tickets to get around political donation rules. Both the IG and GC of FEMA when interviewed by outside authorities, specifically the WH and GAO, they took the position in writing that they were waiting for the other office to conduct an investigation first. This type of ballet was often what caused FEMA to have few internal control systems that were effective.

My reasons for decriminalization is also based on the fact that personal financial gain to a federal officer or employee is the raison d'etre for Ethics Rules, including financial gain to the family of that officer or employee. Thus, civil fines which are more readily enforced and restitution should be the order of the day.

Another major issue in my years in FEMA was enforcing the rule that no individual while employed by the federal government may represent any other person but immediate family on any case or issue adverse or potentially adverse to the government. This meant that the Audit Staff of FEMA's OIG, and all Federal OIG staffs, could not in fact have an outside Tax Preparation Service. I found that in FEMA almost all of the Audit Staff were preparing federal tax returns for compensation. Working with the IG himself We did get out a joint memo to the Audit staff nixing such outside employment. But since I had no investigative staff I often wondered if there in fact had been a cease and desist. The fact that I did not want to compromise or lose experienced auditors over this issue is an example of the problems raised by OGE and other federal rules.

The principle that any officer or employee should have finances of a spouse or children attributable to them is also something that should have been addressed long ago. More and more frequently I found "innocent" spouses that had no idea what their spouses or children were up to and how they were utilizing their access to the officer or employee.

I finished reading a while ago Doris Kearns Goodwin's wonderful book "NO ORDINARY TIMES" and its dicussion of the home front in WWII. Based on the standards of the times no one seemed concerned about conflicts of interest or outside activities. By current standards the administration of FDR was almost totally corrupt in failing to see that official positions were not abused.

One of the most famous examples, which also involved FEMA because of its administration of the Defense Production Act or at least a portion of it involved the National Defense Executive Reserve. This statute waived normal ethics rules but the waiver was long ago detemined to be inappropriate. During WWII many industry executives were so-called $1 A-YEAR men. Most probably thought these executives were donating their time and efforts to the WAR effort. In fact almost 100% of them continued to recieve full salaries from their former employers and often favored those employees. This type of corruption was not addressed until the passage of the DUAL COMPENSATION ACT of 1947. A statute seldom enforced but necessary that statute bars earned income from any federal officer or employee from an outside source without going through certain hoops. Oddly in my time OGE seemed completely uninterested in viewing this statute within their purview.

Much more could be written, but in my time the largest single allegation against a FEMA employee measured by financial self-dealing involved the theft of over $20M dollars. The individual was never referred for prosecution and in fact retired without a thorough investigation of the matter. She was employed by the Office of the Comptroller of FEMA which was always poorly staffed and in my time almost completely lacking in internal control systems.

According to a very competent employee (IMO) when the first Director of FEMA was told that 15 more accounting staff were desperately needed in the Comptroller shop to maintain financial control, that Direct denied the request stating that "financial control would just have to be lost" because of other agency priorities.

Well you get the picture!