By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 12, 2022) -- Service members and civilians throughout the Defense Department complete an array of training sessions annually related to topics such as insider threats, anti-terrorism awareness and cyber security. All are important to the well-being of the department. But compliance with ethics standards -- another topic with an annual training requirement -- is important enough that Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has drawn special attention to it this year.
"Our mission is to defend the United States, and we do it seven days a week, 24 hours a day," Austin said in a recently released video which supports the department's ongoing efforts to ensure every employee is aware of and understands ethical standards.
"It's a big job, one that requires skill and focus," he said. "It also demands the highest standards of conduct. I know that you and your teammates take this responsibility seriously. I know that you serve with honor and integrity ... and that each day you strive to do the right thing. But I also know how important it is to occasionally refresh our understanding of that code of conduct ... of our ethics ... of our values."
Annual ethics training for service members, as well as civilians within the Defense Department and the military services, focuses on topics like avoiding financial conflicts of interest while conducting official duties; conducting fair and impartial relations with, and support to, non-federal entities; and rejecting any sense of personal entitlement while employed by the federal government.
Sometimes, even the appearance of unethical actions -- even if they wouldn't break a rule -- can damage the trust the public has in the U.S military. And that's something Austin said service members and civilians must also be aware of.
"We should avoid even the appearance of unethical behavior," Austin said. "We're all role models for the department. And the way our actions appear often affects our reputation, as individuals and as an institution. A lot of times, when faced with an ethical dilemma, we ask ourselves, 'can I do this?' I would like you to also ask yourself ... 'should I do this?' Something may be perfectly permissible by the rules, but it still might set the wrong example. It still might be the wrong thing to do at the wrong time."
Service members and civilians across the Defense Department may be asked again this year to complete annual government ethics training. That training is developed to ensure employees know what is right, so they are always able to maintain and strengthen the trust the American people have in the U.S. military.
"Ethics is a part of everything we do in the department," Scott Thompson, director of the standards of conduct office within the Defense Department's Office of General Counsel, said. "An important part of our ethics program is annual training. Ethics attorneys work with leaders to create realistic and challenging scenarios. This scenario-based training helps ensure employees are ready to make the right decision when confronted with an ethical dilemma."