By Col. Deborah B. GraysMarch 26, 2009
Fort McPherson & Fort Gillem
"Ethics" means different things to different people. For some, it is a series of principles that establish a standard of behavior that is optional - a nice thing to do, but not required by law. Others believe they have a duty to comply with their ethical standards or "do the right thing," even when doing so conflicts with the law.
Ethics in the Army is not an aspirational goal. It is not an extra step that one might take beyond one's legal obligations. The Army's ethical rules are, for the most part, derived from the Code of Federal Regulations, which form the primary foundation for the Joint Ethics Regulation (JER).
The JER is the "law" when it comes to what is "right." It is not a listing of "nice things to do;" it sets forth legal obligations that apply to us at all times.
Daily, we face situations that require application of ethical principles. Many times the answer appears to be obvious, but not always.
Every Army command has at least one person who is responsible for assisting employees when an ethical question arises. It is Army policy that ethics counselors be attorneys, and each major command on Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem has at least one ethics counselor assigned to its Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.
If your job puts you in close proximity with private organizations or contractors, you should stay in close contact with your ethics counselor.
His or her analytical skills can be of great value in determining the right course of action and in helping you identify areas in which ethical issues may arise - and it can pay dividends in other areas, as well.
One of the most common ethical issues we deal with concerns the limitations on accepting gifts from outside sources. The Army conducts business with many of these individuals, companies and groups - including contractors and other people who would like to do business with the Army.
Other common issues are providing support to entities outside the federal government, and avoiding the perception of favoritism in the support we provide. Because any support we provide is essentially funded by the American taxpayer, the JER is very clear about when and how we can provide such support. These are just a few examples of the issues we face every day that are fraught with ethical implications. Always err on the side of caution, and consult your ethics counselor when the answer is not clear.
As stewards of government resources, we should act as if every month is Ethics Awareness Month, and every day is Ethics Awareness Day. Sometimes the right answer is not intuitively obvious, and relying on what "feels" right may not actually be right under the JER. In many instances, doing what we think is "right" may actually be prohibited by other ethical rules.
Corporate America has found itself in hot water in recent years due to a lack of individual accountability in ethical matters. Ethics is both a personal and professional responsibility that I require you to take seriously. Adherence to ethical rules is part of being Army strong: know the rules, seek clarification and be sure the "right" thing is really "right."