Illinois Sets An Example In Ethics

Jan 18, 2017

Every year employees of the State of Illinois are required to complete Ethics training. Everyone has to do it, and everyone despises it.

But I now have a new appreciation for the exercise. Because of this training, I know what a conflict of interest is. I know what it looks like; I know when I might have one; and, most importantly, I know what to do about it.

As an ethicist, I recognize that there are genuine ethical dilemmas and unresolved problems, but this is not one of them. Identifying a conflict of interest is easy: “If you or your family stand to benefit personally from your employment with the state, it is a conflict of interest.” And, with public figures in particular, appearance is everything. So if it looks like a conflict, treat it as such.

Fortunately the fix is just as simple: Do not put yourself in situations where this could happen -- or even appear to happen. Getting it right might take some personal sacrifice; it might require setting aside an opportunity or two. But that is the choice one makes as public servant, and there is no wiggle room.

It is my responsibility to be responsible for conflicts of interest. Period. Consequently I find it hard to believe that this simple fact -- information available to all state employees -- is somehow in short supply in the federal executive branch. This is one thing the state of Illinois gets right, and it is definitely time for the federal government to go to school.

I'm David Gunkel, and that's my Perspective.