Allen: New rules of contract ethics (full version)

Promoting your ethical behavior may actually help your firm win government business

Companies selling to the government and the government employees with whom they do business have long been bound by a host of ethical rules designed to ensure fair, transparent government acquisition. Until the past two years, however, these rules were known primarily only to people inside the procurement community. Although largely followed, they were notably ignored in a few high-profile cases. It is those notable exceptions that have brought increased scrutiny to the realm of procurement ethics. Now, it seems, no one can be ethical enough.

In today’s market, contractors and customers feel someone is looking over their shoulder. Even routine decisions are being second-guessed. Not surprisingly, this trend is starting to have an impact on the business of government. Contract professionals are demanding more information from contractors to make it clear that contracting decisions are based on objective criteria. In fact, some professionals will not make a decision until the proposal is reviewed by a group of contracting officers.

Established ethical policies do exist. With some limited exceptions, companies in business with an agency may not provide anything of value to any person involved in the acquisition process. This includes meals, sports tickets, gifts, forbearances and other items that might have the potential to sway the judgment of a government decision-maker.

The official rules of the Senate and the House say that lawmakers and staff members may accept gifts — other than cash or a cash equivalent — that they “reasonably and in good faith believe” to have a value of less than $50 and a cumulative value from one source of less than $100 in a calendar year. A gift worth less than $10 does not count toward the annual limit.

Many individual offices, however, have initiated stricter polices that prohibit the receipt of gifts of any value from an outside source having business before Congress or a federal agency. Some offices are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid even the appearance of unethical behavior. As a result, it may be easier to obtain Redskins tickets this fall than it has been in years.

It is vital that contractors know the policies of the offices and agencies they regularly do business with and develop their own systems to ensure they don’t inadvertently exceed gift ceilings.

Offering to pay for an $18 business lunch, although permissible in many cases, may actually bring a chill to a relationship if your guest’s agency has instituted a strict ban or if you’ve already bought the official several lunches. The last thing any contractor wants to do is lose a business opportunity by making a customer uncomfortable.

It’s not only gifts that can get a contractor or government official in trouble. Information shared with one company that is not shared with all after a request for proposals has been issued is a no-no. Employment discussions with officials at an agency with which your firm has business can land a company and the government employee in big trouble. Conflicts of interest can also take you where you do not want to go, proving that there is such a thing as bad business.

Think about it. Do you truly want to hire any government official that did not recuse him or herself from a procurement after employment discussions had been initiated? Similarly, if a contracting officer asked to be treated to lunch at The Palm, complete with a bottle of Opus One, I'd have to wonder if it were a trap to get my firm in trouble.

The same is true for contractors. If you offer inappropriate gifts, you can be fined, go to jail and cost your firm new government business. Is it worth the risk to yourself and your company? All companies doing business with the government should have clear ethics policies — in writing. The company should offer consistent training to employees and ensure that they follow the policies. I know of a company that has two “stand down” days each year to give such training to all its employees.

Promoting your ethical behavior may actually help your firm win business. Government agencies are increasingly looking for companies they can trust; having a visible ethics program is a big part of this equation.

Want more information? Hey, I’m available for lunch. And I love Opus One.

Allen is executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.