How Automation Can Lead to Better Ethics Compliance


For one thing, it can help formalize the process.

Federal law requires that each government agency coordinate and implement an ethics program. These programs span different areas, including ethics rules training, advice and counseling, as well as annual financial disclosure reporting. Compliance is inherently cumbersome to manage, especially given the large number of employees at each agency.

In fact, ethics compliance management can seem downright daunting. This issue is complicated further in agencies that still rely on manual tools like emails and spreadsheets for compliance. Accurate and timely submission becomes critical as any case of non-compliance invites scrutiny from each agency’s office of the inspector general and the Government Accountability  Office.

While the national narrative that automation may result in widespread job loss looms large, government agencies are leveraging automation to help reduce risk, maintain compliance and increase internal efficiency. Here are just a few examples of how agencies can explore automation strategies to overcome the challenges of ethics management.

Reduce Tedious Processes and Minimize Errors

Automating ethics processes helps to make employee self-reporting easier and less error-prone. For example, data entry for the OGE-450 financial disclosure form is a critical operation and still mainly accomplished via a PDF form. By automating this process, agencies can reduce employee time spent on mundane tasks while also ensuring accurate and timely data entry.

Another example: When processes such as ethics rules training are conducted manually, there are often numerous steps that require in-person prompting, introducing the potential for delay, inconsistency and mistakes. However, automation allows you to define a set of tasks to organize and formalize the process. As a result, employees can follow an automated series of prompts and events that are quickly and consistently repeatable to ensure compliance in line with annual reviews.

Generate Intuitive and Auditable Reporting

For some agencies, using spreadsheets attached to email messages may seem like an easy way to share information. But for compliance purposes, this method introduces significant challenges. Email attachments, for example, do not leave an appropriate and reportable audit trail. Automation allows agencies to audit their work with just the click of a button.

The latest automation technologies make it possible to edit, share and manage all documents, ensuring the work complies with required rules and regulations. A central and auditable platform also makes reporting easier and more intuitive, further minimizing inadvertent ethics violations. Mistakes caused by improper administration, such as failure to file a financial disclosure report, are easily avoided with automation.

Take an Agile Approach

It is common for agencies to struggle with ethics compliance and reporting, something further complicated by constantly evolving guidelines that make it difficult for agencies to keep up. A solution is often an agile approach that can evolve with the latest requirements.

The typical concern with iterative development is the expense, particularly when relying on intensive IT support to implement needed changes for compliance with the latest policies. The secret is to introduce greater agility by shifting changes away from IT and into the hands of departmental and compliance staff. In short, adopt platforms that rely less on coding and focus more on process adjustment, providing agencies with the flexibility needed to adapt to change rapidly. These platforms can give agencies the edge they need to stay on top of new requirements by allowing processes to be amended when required and implemented quickly and easily.

Ethics compliance is ever-changing and always something that agencies will struggle to address. The more agencies can shift from manual, labor-intensive processes to leverage automation for improved accuracy, timeliness, and consistency, the better they can reduce risk, maintain compliance, and increase internal efficiency.

Drew Jaehnig is the industry practice leader for the public sector for Bizagi.