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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - More on: Do waivers make the state ethics rules meaningless, or unfair?

Following up on Sunday's stories, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette editorialized yesterday:

There may be another leak to plug when the legislature re-evaluates Indiana's ethics code.

The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly reported this weekend on a peculiar feature of the part of Indiana's code dealing with executive-branch employees who leave public service and go to work for companies that do business with the state.

Since 2005, Indiana has mandated a cooling-off period of one year. That rule is designed to prevent the revolving door effect of a government employee giving special treatment to a potential employer in the private sector or a former public servant getting hired to use his or her inside knowledge and connections to give a new employer an edge with officials.

In writing, the rule is pretty straightforward. Under “post-employment restrictions – summary of the rule,” the inspector general's ethics page has this sentence: “Don't go to work for a company that did work for you as a state employee.”

If there's a question of whether an employee might be compromised, the Indiana inspector general is ready to resolve it.

But as Kelly reported, there's a way to get around all that.

A waiver.

That's right – the head of a state agency can write a former employee a waiver that excuses him or her from the wait-a-year rule, or even, apparently, from worrying about what the state calls “particular matters” – conflicts in which a former official can never represent a private employer.

The inspector general, David Thomas, generally defended the concept. Thomas told Kelly the head of an employee's department is in the best position to know how involved that person was in a potentially conflicting matter and thus whether a waiver is appropriate. And he noted that all of the more than 100 waivers that have been granted in the nine years since the law went into effect are a part of public record. Thomas also contends that the waiver provision might protect the Indiana law from being declared unconstitutionally limiting.

But some of the waiver cases recounted in Kelly's article and a story on the same subject in The Indianapolis Star Sunday certainly give one pause. * * *

No cases of wrongdoing were unearthed. But the process undercuts the sense of trust and fair play that an ethics code is supposed to promote.

The legislature should look hard at the waiver provision as part of the ethical overhaul that we hope is coming at the Statehouse early next year.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 20, 2014 09:54 AM
Posted to Indiana Government