Ethics Training Moves To Stage Center, Spurred By Scandals And Laws

When the just-named acting governor of New Jersey, Richard J. Codey, proposed last month a rigorous new ethics training program for state employees, it underscored more than just the needs of his own state. It also pointed up that training programs aimed at strengthening the ethical culture of organizations are on everyone's tongues these days.

"The recent corporate scandals have created more awareness of the problem," said ethics training expert Cathleen Sullivan, principal and founder of RedHawk Communications in Eatontown, N.J.

In addition to his training proposals, Codey ordered severe restrictions on how lobbyists can represent their vendor clients seeking state work. He seeks as well to eliminate ethically flawed campaign donations.

Codey's actions were in response to the sex-and-favoritism scandals of his immediate predecessor, Gov. James E. McGreevey, who resigned last month.

"People need to have faith that government is working for them," the new governor said at a news conference in the State House, in Trenton.

It's too soon to determine what form New Jersey's new ethics training program will take; Codey has appointed a law professor and a former justice to make recommendations. But the state has a ways to go — in 2003, New Jersey offered 15 ethics training sessions to state employees, compared with a U.S. average of 30 per state.

New York alone offered 121 ethics training sessions for state workers in 2003.

As for Sullivan, she produces ethics training courses for government clients covering such issues as dealing with lobbyists, gifts and gratuities, as well as such general organizational concerns as codes of conduct, conflicts of interest, employee harassment, the duties of directors and internal controls.

On the corporate side, Sullivan noted that two recent federal acts — the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which tightens corporate financial reporting, and last month's passage of the U.S. Organizational Sentencing Guidelines, which strengthens the penalties for ethical lapses — are making ethics training more critical.

"It's not about the company teaching employees ethics," Sullivan said. "You want to create a common method of ethical practices, from the top down."