Not everyone is comfortable reporting unethical behavior, survey indicates

Joe Davidson
Columnist May 24, 2012

When Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan appeared before a Senate committee investigating the Colombia prostitution scandal, he cited an employee survey and said that nearly 60 percent of the agency’s workers indicated they would report unethical behavior.

What does that say about the rest of them?

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Sullivan was referring to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management.

The director, who appeared to be operating from memory when he mentioned the survey, was close on its findings. Among Secret Service employees, 55.5 percent gave a positive response to the question: “I can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule, or regulation without fear of reprisal.”

Put another way, 45 percent apparently would fear reprisal, and that’s much too high.

The 55.5 percent places the agency a little below the government-wide average of 59.9 percent on that question, according to John Palguta, a vice president of the Partnership for Public Service, a good-government group that focuses on the federal workforce. The partnership has a content-sharing relationship with The Washington Post.

“We want to improve that number so it’s 100 percent,” Sullivan said at Wednesday’s hearing. Unethical behavior, “we want that to be reported to us.”

The way the question was worded, many employees would probably think of reprisal as something a manager might do, such as denying a promotion or a bonus, Palguta said. But reprisal also could be in the form of peer pressure, which is what Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, seemed to have in mind when he asked “what the Secret Service is doing . . . to ensure that no code of silence exists among agents and officers.”

Palguta is familiar with the Viewpoint Survey because the Partnership uses the OPM data to develop the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report.

Overall, Palguta said “employees gave the Secret Service a decent score as a good place to work compared to other federal organizations” in the survey.

The below-average score on disclosing violations, however, indicates that this is a problem the agency needs to address.

Outdoor projects

The Obama administration plans to hire 20,000 teens and young adults to work in national forests, national parks, wildlife reserves and other public lands, according to an announcement from the White House and the Interior and Agriculture departments.

Administration officials also announced competitive grants worth $3.7 million for 20 projects around the country that will provide jobs for 500 young people.

“These first experiences building trails, clearing out hazardous fuels or cleaning up rivers not only equip young people with skills for a new career, but can also awaken a love for the outdoors that lasts a lifetime,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

According to the agencies, the 20 projects include:

A University of Alaska program to encourage Alaska Native youths to pursue conservation careers .

A Maryland project to put students and young adults to work in conservation projects along the Potomac River at Douglas Point.

A Wisconsin effort to identify and conserve the natural resources on 64 islands in the lower Wisconsin River.

Grads welcome

With all the news about government worker scandals, frozen federal pay and budget cuts, why would anyone want to join the government?

Those distractions don’t stop OPM Director John Berry from using every opportunity to recruit.

He returned to his alma mater this week to offer words of wisdom to University of Maryland graduates, and he couldn’t leave without putting in a good word for Uncle Sam.

“You — all of you — can serve our country any way that you can imagine,” he said. “I hope you will consider government service — because it offers a place to do great good and on a scale that simply can’t be beat.

“We’ve just launched a new program — called the Recent Graduates program — that gives you two years to easily join the federal government after you graduate. I hope you’ll consider it.”

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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