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Comptroller General shares experiences during 2023 Ethics Week Lecture

Gene Dordaro gave the 2023 Ethics Week Lecture on Oct. 31. (Photo by Wingate Downs)

Gene Dodaro explains how ethical behavior becomes currency

Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States, sees ethics from three different perspectives.

As part of his Ethics Week Lecture, Dodaro discussed personal ethics, the significant consequences that occur from ethical collapses and the criticality of building an ethical culture in an organization.

“We’re trying to fight the good fight,” he said. “Having a well-functioning democracy is to have good ethical behavior and strive to do the best you can.”

Dodaro became the eighth comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office in 2010. Since then, he’s made sure those who work in his office maintain an ethical standard.

“One of the most important things is to have an immutable set of values that you adhere to,” he said. “It’s important in every job, but it’s particularly important in our job because we’re always critiquing someone. If we’re not trusted, if we’re not viewed as professionals with integrity, we would not be able to produce the outcomes that we are seeking.”

For Dodaro, ethical behavior sets the tone for the future.

“Your ethical behavior is your currency,” he said. “I try to emulate that behavior in leading the organization not only because it’s the right thing to do in my opinion, but also because it’s important to your effectiveness. Your reputation precedes you. People will listen better when they believe you to be an ethical person.”

Dodaro also discussed recent examples of ethical collapses during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically instances when people used the situation to exploit others.

“These types of events bring out the best in human nature, but they also bring out the worst in human nature,” he said. “On the good side, we had lots of health care professionals who were out working on the front lines, putting themselves at risk. But we also had a lot of people who were exploiting the emergency.”

Dodaro said there were cases of conspiracy, money laundering, theft, embezzlement and smuggling during the pandemic, and his office is helping efforts to recover what they can. For example, in the unemployment insurance area, the Government Accountability Office estimates there was more than $135 billion lost to fraud.

In addition, Dodaro shared why it’s important to build an organization and how he does that within the Government Accountability Office. First and foremost, ethical culture is imbued in his office from the first day and from the top person in the organization down. It’s particularly important for his staff because they set auditing standards for state and local governments and also help set international standards, as well. In fact, they’ve been approached to train the Ukrainian accounts chamber to audit some of their federal systems.

“Ethics is a big part of that process because if your auditors aren’t ethical, then we really have a problem in their system of government,” he said.

The Ethics Week Lecture was sponsored by the School of Public and International Affairs and designated as one of the university’s Signature Lectures, which feature speakers noted for their broad, multidisciplinary appeal and compelling bodies of work.

The Ethics Week Lecture is part of the university’s observance of Ethics Awareness Week, an event designed to highlight the institution’s ongoing effort to promote an ethical culture on campus and to raise awareness about ethics resources available at UGA. The annual observance is designated by the University System of Georgia across all USG institutions as an important reminder of shared core values of integrity, excellence, accountability and respect.