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News Release

Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Contact: Edmund Byrnes
Tel: 202-606-2402

OPM Director James Praises Government Ethics Officers

Stresses the need to protect the merit system principles while large transformations are underway at DHS and DOD - Cites ethics officers as source of credibility to public service

New York, N.Y. - During her keynote address to 500 attendees at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics' 13th Annual Government Ethics Conference, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James not only praised the audience for the work they do, but reminded them of the need to do not just what is legal, but what is right.

"In one of his first memos, President George W. Bush instructed everyone in his Administration to: 'faithfully observe…the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch,'" said James. "And one of those principles in the President's memo stands out. 'Employees shall put forth honest effort in the performance of their duties.' How simple. How profound. Few of us are called upon to make the major historical decisions which appear in the headlines, affect the lives of all Americans, and give the op-ed writers a chance to debate the ethical merits of our decision. However, if we were to fail in our upkeep of standards, the credibility of our government and the historic decisions it makes would be impacted. And you, as ethics professionals, are specifically required to assure that this, among other things, is upheld for our country."

And James reminded her audience of her position as the Director of OPM. "I have an ethical obligation to my country, to its citizens, to President Bush, and to the federal work force, to manage OPM efficiently and effectively. I also have instilled that ethic of responsibility in everyone who works with and for me. Today, in a time of dramatic change in our government's structure - the standup of the Department of Homeland Security and the updating of personnel regulations at the Department of Defense - ethics remain central to the federal civil service through our oversight of the merit system principles."

The new systems will be developed as expeditiously as possible, while giving equal weight and priority to the ethical standards which must apply. In the case of DHS, the intensive effort of combining the cultures and human resources services of 22 different agencies involves the ethical commitment of the best at the new department. OPM's legislatively mandated involvement in both the DHS' and the DOD's new personnel systems emphasizes the importance the Executive Branch and Congress place on core beliefs, such as the merit system principles and the prohibited personnel practices, as bedrocks of any agency transformation.

One of OPM's main responsibilities is the management and protection of the merit system principles of the federal civil service. They are the principles which say you should get and keep your job based on your own merit, your skill and abilities, not on who you know or who you voted for.

Noting the need to protect Veterans' Preference, James said: "At this time in history, the necessity for higher standards is in evidence every day. We can not afford to have those who guard our airports susceptible to bribes. We do not honor the brave fighting men and women of our military by allowing agencies to deny them the preference they have earned. At OPM, we have an ethical obligation to guarantee and protect Veterans' Preferences where they apply. Veterans have earned this preference to serve their nation as a civilian because they chose to serve their nation in uniform."

In closing, James said: "For government agencies, old and new, ethics in government are essential for the programs we are working on today and those that will surely evolve tomorrow - which is why it is so important that we capture a picture of how our employees think about ethics in their jobs. It is our desire to incorporate the highest of ethical standards in our human resource program. And as government leaders of ethics programs, you have a unique responsibility to not only enforce the regulations, but to set an example, to set the tone."

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OPM leads and serves the Federal Government in enterprise human resources management by delivering policies and services to achieve a trusted, effective civilian workforce. By Empowering Excellence in Government through Great People, we provide leadership and support to U.S. agencies on issues including human resources policy and oversight, background investigations, federal employee benefits, retirement services, guidance on labor-management relations, and programs to improve workforce performance. For more information, visit or follow OPM on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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