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Ethics for an Outsourced Government

Submitted by Kathleen Clark on Fri, 08-17-2012
Clark, Kathleen
Author(s)' contact information
John S. Lehmann Research Professor of Law
Washington University in St. Louis'
Conference title
Administrative Conference of the United States
Conference location
Washington DC
United States
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In recent decades, the federal government has greatly expanded its use of contractors to perform services, and now purchases more than $260 billion in services every year. The government increasingly turns to contractors to accomplish its programmatic goals, and contractor personnel are now performing tasks that in the past had been performed by government employees.
While an extensive array of ethics statutes and rules regulate government employees to ensure that they make decisions in the interest of the government rather than a private interest, only a few of these restrictions apply to contractor personnel. If a federal employee makes a recommendation on a matter that could affect her financial interest, she could be subject not only to administrative discipline but also to criminal prosecution. In most cases, a contractor employee who has that same financial interest and makes the same recommendation is not subject to any consequences. In fact, the government does not have any systematic way of even finding out when contractor personnel have such conflicts of interest. The personal conflicts of interest of contractor personnel are largely unregulated.
In light of the fact that so much of the government’s work is outsourced, the government needs to develop appropriate safeguards to ensure that the public interest is protected when contractors are doing the government’s work. This paper describes the complex set of government ethics statutes and regulations, identifies the principles underlying those restrictions, and suggests ways that those principles can be applied to government contractor personnel.
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