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GAOs Jim Lager Discusses What Drives Ethical Behavior with Smith Students

Nov 08, 2007
Experiential / Reality-based Learning

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Jim Lager, Government Accountability Office deputy ethics counselor, shared his experiences and discussed what drives behavior, compliance-based thinking and regulation with 75 Smith students on November 7. His lecture was the third and final installment of the Robert H. Smith School of Business's Business Ethics Lecture Series for fall 2007.

He began the lecture with a game, asking students to identify the standards they use for assessing whether their behavior is ethical. When many of the students listed compliance with the law as a standard, he asked students who acknowledged routinely violating the speed limit laws, if they were behaving ethically when speeding. When the class agreed that people can speed and still be ethical, Lager asserted that ethics and compliance are also different considerations, and that we should not confuse compliant behavior with ethical behavior. He pointed out that often, transactions are designed to be compliant with and structured around ethics codes. But that does not mean that the transactions or the behavior of those involved is ethical.

When asked, students listed integrity, honesty, responsibility and transparency among the top values they think are important when it comes to ethical behavior. And these values are all important, Lager said. If we all would just honor our values the values we all trust if we count on these and expect everyone to act consistent with them, there wont be any big problems. According to Lager, when it comes down to it for ethics to be effective, it has to reflect who we, and the organizations we work for, really and truly are. That's where GAOs three core values of accountability, integrity and reliability come into play. He said that since integrity is integral to GAOs mission, maintaining an ethical environment at GAO comes naturally to the organization.

Lager told students about his work at GAO, ranging from personal accountability at the workplace and as a private citizen, and what role GAO plays. He said that at least 90 percent of GAOs work comes from Congressional requests to assess and analyze government agencies or programs.

Lager closed the lecture with questions concerning the GAOs core values and personal accountability. Lager earned a bachelors degree from Michigan State University and his Masters and J.D. from American University.

Related Stories:
Highlights from the Fall 2007 Ethics Lecture Series
Spring 2007 Ethics Experiential Learning Module for MBAs
Fall 2006 Ethics Lecture Series
Spring 2006 Ethics Lecture Series

▓ Donna Lin, MBA Candidate 2009, Smith Media Group

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