Service members and civilians throughout the Department of Defense complete a series of training sessions annually related to topics such as insider threats, counterterrorism awareness, and cybersecurity. All are important to the well-being of the department. But upholding ethical standards — another subject with an annual training requirement — is important enough that Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III drew special attention to it this year.
“Our mission is to defend the United States, and we do so seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Austin said in a newly released video that supports the department’s ongoing efforts to ensure every employee knows and understands ethical standards.
“It’s a big job, which requires skill and concentration,” he said. “It also demands the highest standards of conduct. I know you and your teammates take this responsibility seriously. I know you serve with honor and integrity… and that every day you strive to do the right thing. But I also know how important it is to refresh our understanding of this code of conduct…our ethics…our values from time to time.”
Annual ethics training for the military, as well as civilians within the Department of Defense and military services, focuses on topics such as avoiding financial conflicts of interest in the performance of their official duties ; maintaining fair and impartial relations with and providing support to non-federal entities; and reject any sense of personal entitlement while employed by the federal government.
Sometimes even the appearance of unethical actions—even if they don’t violate a rule—can damage public trust in the U.S. military. And that’s something Austin said the military and civilians need to be aware of as well.
“We should avoid even the appearance of unethical behavior,” Austin said. “We are all role models for the department. And how our actions appear often affects our reputation, as individuals and as an institution. Often when faced with an ethical dilemma, we ask ourselves, ‘can I do that ?’ I would like you to also ask yourself… ‘should I do this?’ Something can be perfectly allowed by the rules, but it can still set a bad example. It can always be the wrong thing to do at the wrong time.
Again this year, Defense Department military and civilians may be asked to take annual government ethics training. This training is developed to ensure that employees know what is right, so that they are always able to maintain and strengthen the confidence that the American people have in the United States military.
“Ethics is part of everything we do in the department,” said Scott Thompson, director of the office of conduct standards in the office of the general counsel for the Department of Defense. “An important part of our ethics program is annual training. Ethics lawyers work with leaders to create realistic and challenging scenarios. This scenario-based training helps ensure that employees are ready to take the right decision when faced with an ethical dilemma.”