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Lloyd Waters: Ethics in government? Are you kidding me?

November 25, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

Ethics is a neat little word. Do you know what it means? Simply said, “it’s a system of moral principles;” those rules of conduct in respect to a particular class of human actions, or a particular group or culture.

After attending several seminars and a class or two in college on the subject of “ethics,” I always thought it was just doing the right thing when no one was looking.

As I watched news events unfold a few weeks ago, there was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. David Petraeus, in the headlines. Apparently, the CIA leader of our country, an intelligent man by most reports, was caught in the middle of an affair with a woman who just happens to write books.

Now, how smart is that? Not very, I thought.

On the heels of that report, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta thought it a good idea to provide some “ethics training” to his department. Apparently, some other military generals are also having difficulty applying ethical principles to the performance of their duties.

One in particular, Gen. William “Kip” Ward, was demoted one star and ordered to repay some $82,000 for inappropriate expenses. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair is under investigation on serious sexual misconduct charges. And Admiral James G. Stavridis has been admonished for his lack of scrutiny with travel and related expenses.

While Panetta is emphasizing the importance of “ethics” in his department, much of the same behavior can be found throughout government.

When campaign contributors give to a political party and that party grants favors to that contributor because of those cash donations, do you think that is ethical?

If I were competing for an elected office, and a Realtor friend gave me a contribution and supported my election, do you think it would be ethical of me, if elected to that office, to then vote for the purchase of a piece of property by that government entity which makes my political donor a neat little profit?

Would my vote be considered a payback for that individual’s contribution and support? Would that be ethical?

As I mentioned earlier, by definition, ethics is a system of moral principles.

What if we are lacking in moral principles? What happens if the majority of a group does not favor ethical behavior?

When you look at government’s behavior and its way of doing business, you often see that those who are most rewarded are those who donate the most money.

Some journalists seem to think that this is limited to one party, but when you total the financial contributions of both parties, you can see the motivation that really drives our entire political system.

When you look at lobbyists who get paid to influence a politician’s vote, and that vote is often obtained by donations and political contributions, where might one find some integrity?

The Petraeus incident happened before the election. Would it have been ethical to advise the nation of that event before the votes were cast?

When the incident happened at our Embassy in Libya, would it have been ethical to share the truth with the nation?

I think Panetta is wise in his assessment. Maybe it is a good idea to provide some “ethics” training to his agency.

Maybe it might even be a better idea to provide some meaningful ethics training throughout all levels of government.

Let’s start in Washington County and have a serious debate about ethical behavior. Let’s then go to state government, and maybe we can get Gov. O’Malley to support a refresher of ethics training to state officials.

Our president surely is not opposed to a bit more ethics training in government at the federal level, is he?

Ethics is a little word with a diminishing presence.

Do you think most government officials today do the right thing when no one is looking? Are you kidding?


Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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