No punishment outlined for city employees who disobey
A D.C. employee who believed his supervisor was playing favorites and behaving unprofessionally emailed members of the D.C. Council recently asking how to call for an investigation based on the ethics pledge Mayor Vincent Gray asked city employees to sign this year.
|D.C. employee ethics|
|Key components of the ethics pledge Mayor Vincent Gray asked city employees to sign:|
|» Avoiding financial conflicts of interest|
|» Avoiding outside payment for government work|
|» Avoiding gifts and payment from interested parties|
"I do not believe that the ethics pledge is enforceable on its own," a staffer for Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh replied via email and directed the employee to the city's whistleblower hotline.
"It seems to me that [the pledge] is more of an aspirational set of goals," Cheh staffer Andrew Newman concluded.
A mayoral spokesman told The Washington Examiner the pledge was enforceable in that it was treated like an order from a superior and those who do not follow it will be reprimanded for insubordination. However, the punishment is not outlined, meaning it could vary from anything from a verbal reprimand to being fired.
In addition, not all city employees have even signed the pledge, in which workers agree to follow the ethical guidelines laid out in a more than 40-page manual. According to a Department of Human Resources mandate, those who have not signed the ethics pledge are required to complete an ethics training course by the end of the year.
Gray announced the pledge on the same February day the city said it uncovered a major unemployment insurance swindle by current and former District workers. The pledge included 10 items, including an oath that employees will report "waste or illegal conduct by government officials" to the appropriate authorities "when I witness it," and a promise they will avoid giving preferential treatment.
Ethics pledges and oaths can have little value when enforcement of them does not appear consistent, said Linda Trevino, an ethics professor at Penn State University. Certainly a pledge instituted by a mayor whose election campaign is under federal investigation in a government that has now seen two former council members plead guilty to federal charges might not be taken seriously, she said.
"I always tell organizations, if you don't have that full package -- and the culture that goes with it -- then it's better not to do anything," she said. "Because if you do something, then you're going to be seen as hypocritical rather than ethical. And that's worse because that makes people cynical."