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America: Let’s not pat ourselves on the back quite yet

Anti-corruption experts around the world cheered last week when the Biden Administration announced that “countering corruption [is] a core United States national security interest.” And for good reason – the announcement identifies many of the issues that are critical in the global fight against corruption.

Topics covered include increasing transparency in global financial systems and beneficial ownership structures, coordinating with global partners to identify and prosecute corruption, freezing and returning stolen assets, encouraging open government, and supporting and strengthening the capacity of civil society and media (among many others). 

Let’s be clear — this is a big deal. And many anti-corruption advocates remain cautiously optimistic about the impact of this announcement.

But we should not let our enthusiasm for the “global” policies in this document cause us to lose sight of all the work that needs to be done in the United States to combat domestic ethics and corruption issues. 

Whether it’s strengthening our whistleblower laws, expanding the reach and enforceability of our ethics regulations, addressing the holes in our criminal anti-bribery statutes caused by decades of troubling Supreme Court precedent, reinforcing the independence of our inspectors general, or addressing the many weaknesses that exist in our state and local ethics laws (among many, many other issues). We have a lot of work to do.

This is why I was particularly heartened to see that the current administration seeks to “[a]ssist and strengthen the capacity of domestic (including State and local) authorities and institutions . . . to implement transparency, oversight, and accountability measures . . . ” 

It’s vague, but it’s a start. And it makes clear to the world that Americans don’t only see corruption as a problem that occurs in other countries. 

So, yes, America. Applaud this development. But let’s hold off on the self-congratulations until we also begin addressing the problems in our backyard. 

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