EDITOR'S DESK: Don't let personal ethics fail you

Thomas R. Temin

With the big turnover in Cabinet secretaries following President Bush's re-election, you can expect a slew of new political appointees further down the food chain. These will be accompanied by shifts at the career executive level.

Who doesn't wonder what a new boss will be like? We've all been there.

Career public servants understand a cardinal rule of the game: You are there to carry out policy, and policy changes. It's not all that different in the private sector. New brass often herald new policies, new ways of working, new product plans.

I've found in nearly 30 years of working life that it's usually not a good career move to butt heads with your new boss.

But there is one line I vowed never to cross, and that is the line of ethics. Each profession has its particular ethics codes, and there are basic ethics that apply universally. I've been lucky to work for ethical people, so I've never had to resign.

Why bring this up now? Because many recent and visible ethical breaches have involved public servants. Who needs this?

For example, it wasn't so long ago that Franklin Raines was running the Office of Management and Budget, and agency officials and consultants were all spouting 'Raines' Rules.'

As I write this, Raines has just resigned as CEO of the quasi-public Federal National Mortgage Association because he presided over an operation that cooked Fannie Mae's books for years, letting its executives reap fat bonuses. (Vigilant career civil servants at the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight uncovered this one'bravo.)

Then there is the Air Force's Darlene Druyun, who as an acquisition officer for big-league programs shook down contractors for private gain. She's headed for prison.

Finally, Bush's short-lived nominee for Homeland Security secretary, former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, scuttled home under an avalanche of lurid revelations.

The one thing an individual can do to strengthen a climate of integrity is to maintain one's own code. This sends a signal that might give even a deliberate crook pause.


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