Nearly every federal agency has an ethics office. The FBI is one of the few agencies with a sister office devoted to ensuring legal compliance by employees. The Justice Department Inspector General took a look at FBI compliance efforts, and found some things other agencies could emulate.
“Compliance deals with the management of legal risk,” said Patrick Kelley, assistant director for the FBI’s Office of Integrity and Compliance. Legal risk is what an agency faces when it fails to comply with a law or policy that governs the agency’s mission, operations or program. “Compliance is as method of trying to identify those risks and mitigate them before you end up with a problem.”
The Inspector General said that the risk reduction strategies within the FBI’s Integrity Compliance Program have had a positive impact. The program has provided a method by which FBI management not only identifies risks, but also examine them, determines ways to mitigate them and then puts into place measures to reduce legal risks.
“Overall, the IG report, in my opinion, said that the program was worthwhile,” Kelley said, adding that the report encouraged other agencies to adopt similar programs to reduce risks.
Assessing legal risks
Agencies face a variety of complex areas in which they may encounter legal risks, which is why identifying and avoiding them is so crucial.
“Everything we do is governed by some law, regulation or policy,” Kelley said, “everything from hiring an individual to application of deadly force.”
Regarding the application of deadly force, for example, the FBI faces a long list of legal considerations, beginning with the Constitution.
“If a law enforcement officer pulls a weapon and pulls the trigger, then that amounts to a seizure under the Constitution,” Kelley said. “Seizures have to be reasonable and justified. … Below the Constitution are statutes and regulations. Department of Justice has a deadly force policy and the FBI has a deadly force policy. So, there is a risk if your people aren’t conversant with the policy or the agency doesn’t have a good policy, then application of deadly force could result not only in loss of life … but also a violation of law.”
The good doing good
The FBI’s Integrity Compliance Program not only identifies risks, but also focuses on the control environment that surrounds those risks. Those controls are the policies and procedures that are in place that tell workers what is expected of them. The program is implemented through employee training, monitoring by supervisors and auditing of the program to measure results.
“We try to get out front before something develops into a problem,” Kelley said. “Before someone comes in and says ‘aha, you’ve violated a law,’ we’re looking at the risk that we would do so as we proceed.”
“The overall objective here is to enable our employees, who we think are really good employees that want to do the right thing, to do the right thing,” Kelley said.
It can be difficult at times for FBI employees in the legal environment they operate under and the pressures they face to always know what the right thing to do is. “Our program helps the good employees to do that very thing,” Kelley said.