Ethics Climate in Local Government & Business Ethics Survey Comparison

In order to get a comparable measure of the ethics climate in local governments and agencies across Missouri we queried respondents on a number of variables including: ethics codes; ethics training; and the overall culture of ethics.

Ethics Codes


  • Roughly one third of our respondents said their agency does not have a code of ethics.
  • Surprisingly, the size of the municipality was in no way correlated to whether that agency had an ethics code.
  • While having an ethics code was not correlated with lower observed ethical infraction rates, it was correlated with higher emphases on ethics training, which in turn was correlated with lower observed ethical infraction rates in some categories


Ethics Knowledge and Training


  • 48% of respondents had some or strong emphasis on ongoing ethics training — meaning a majority of those surveyed said they had little or no ongoing emphasis on training.
  • Ethics training did have a correlation with lower observed ethical infraction rates in some categories. See “Infraction Rates” page for more details.


Ethics Climate Indicators


  1. Agency Officers or Employees Will Not Experience Retaliation for Reporting a Violation
  2. Agency Staff Know How to Report Ethics Violations
  3. Superior/Oversight Entity Would Respond Appropriately if They Became Aware of Improper Conduct
  4. Offenders will be Disciplined Consistently and Fairly by Superior/Oversight Entity
  5. Superior/Oversight Entity is Fully Committed to Upholding Agency Standards of Conduct
  6. Superior/Oversight Entity Exercised Sufficient Oversight on Ethics Issues
  7. Agency Officers and Employees Feel Comfortable Reporting and Observed Ethics Violation to Superior/Oversight Entity

It is encouraging that about 75% of respondents agreed on the first 4 questions.
The numbers start to drop somewhat when asking if superiors and overseers are fully committed to upholding ethical standards and exercise sufficient oversight on ethics issues.
The least agreement came when asked if the respondent felt comfortable reporting ethics violations.

National Business Ethics Survey: A Comparison

Little national data is available on the state of ethics in local government. However, the Ethics Resource Center publishes a yearly report on the state of ethics in business. They measure the culture of ethics, ethical behavior, and point out some best practices. Their measures provide an interesting comparison with local government.
Taken from National Business Ethics Survey (p. 16) – 2014, Ethics Resource Center

One of the most significant measures in the National Business Ethics Survey (NBES) is their gauge on the “ethics culture” within an organization. They judge this based on:

  1. Written standards of ethical workplace conduct,
  2. Training on the standards,
  3. Company resources that provide advice about ethics issues,
  4. A means to report potential violations confidentially or anonymously,
  5. Performance evaluations of ethical conduct, and
  6. Systems to discipline violators (NBES 16 – citation style?).
  • The NBES found that in strong ethics cultures, 60% of violations were a one-time occurrence.
  • In contrast, weak cultures saw 82% of violations happen on a more frequent basis, with 35% representing “an ongoing pattern” (NBES 21).
  • The NBES found that 81% of companies provided ethics training in 2013 – a significant number, but especially impressive given the 74% providing ethics training in their 2011 survey.
  • This contrasts sharply with Missouri local government where a majority of agencies reported little or no ongoing emphasis on ethics training.
  • According to the NBES there has been a steady improvement across the range of their study in the strength of ethics cultures within private institutions.
  • National trending data is not available for local government.


Policy Recommendations

Local governments and agencies are encouraged to:

  • enact ethics codes, these set clear guidelines and expectations for officers and employees
  • create ongoing ethics training programs, these not only inculcate those expectations but are correlated with lower ethical infraction rates in some categories
  • include ethical behavior in employee evaluations, this not only provided incentives for officers and employees to behave ethically, it encourages familiarity with ethics guidelines among supervisors
  • According to a separate NBES survey (see below), there is a strong connection between lack of retaliation and increased reporting of ethical issues. This being the case, CEPL strongly encourages local agencies to continue to be vigilant in stopping retaliation and to ensure that employees are given accessible methods to confidentially report any violations they observe.