In my visits with Interior employees around the country -- from the U.S. Geological Survey staff in Hawaii to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine -- I am continually impressed by the means in which you faithfully carry out your duties. Being a public servant is one of the highest callings a person can undertake, and it is clear to me that you are invested in diligently carrying out the varied missions of the Department of the Interior.
It is from these experiences and my tenure serving the Department for nearly the past two decades that I know previous high profile ethics issues do not fairly represent the integrity of the entire Department. Since returning to the Department in 2017, I have taken actions to implement commonsense reforms to improve our operations and ethical standards – all in an effort to build public confidence in our collective work.
The Department’s ethics record has been blemished too many times by poor decisions and an unsupported ethics program, lack of standard operating procedures, and an inadequate amount of dedicated resources. There have even been instances over the years when some Bureau and Office programs would not have ethics officials in place at all. This was not sustainable.
Today, I signed Order 3375, which modifies our organizational framework to establish ethical compliance at the Department by unifying 13 disparate bureau programs into a centrally managed office. This streamlines the reporting structure for ethics personnel, consolidates the Department’s ethics program into the Departmental Ethics Office, and clarifies roles and responsibilities for Department employees, program managers, and ethics officials. These changes will enhance the delivery of ethics services to employees and ensure the program operations are legally sufficient and compliant with ethics laws and regulations.
Scott De La Vega, the Director of the Departmental Ethics Office and Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO), will oversee ethics operations for the Department. Unifying the ethics programs will ensure the DAEO has overall responsibility and authority for the Department’s program, including the ethics activities of the Bureaus and Offices. This will provide accountability and consistency across all components of the Department.
Leading up to this change, I have worked with the DAEO’s office to build-out the ethics program by recruiting experienced, career ethics professionals with the dedication and leadership skills necessary to establish a best-in-class program. These new employees include the DAEO, Alternate DAEO, Financial Disclosure Supervisor, Ethics Education and Training Supervisor, and Deputy Ethics Counselors at the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other Bureaus and Offices.
Since 2017, the Department has increased the number of full-time, career ethics professionals by 162 percent, nearly doubling the total hired between 2009 and 2016. This unprecedented buildup and restructuring of our Department’s ethics program is not only necessary but decades overdue. At the heart of this goal are four interconnected priorities, which include:
Increasing consistency in the standards and quality of ethics advice and counseling, financial disclosure reviews, identification of conflicts of interest, and training and education provided to all Department employees;
Reducing unnecessary structural barriers resulting in enhanced accountability and increased compliance with ethics statutes and regulations;
Developing governmental ethics expertise among ethics personnel;
Enhancing the independence of ethics officials and the ethics program; and
Expanding our provision of ethics services.
This historic transformation will take effect in a phased approach, initiating on October 1, 2019 and will be completed before the end of the calendar year. As we move forward, it is important, for all employees to know that the ethics contacts in your Bureaus and Offices will remain the same. Over the next few months, email addresses for those contacts will change; however, your ethics contact and services will not.
These changes will better ensure that the Department has an effective and responsive ethics operation to assist all employees consistently in faithfully discharging the duties of your Offices with integrity and in compliance with conflict of interest laws and the highest ethical standards.
I am confident that these changes will result in a best-in-class ethics program.