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Too many rules can bog down a compliance program

The FCPA Blog’s favorite Formula One team in the 2022 season, Aston Martin, was forced to start from the pit lane at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix due to a fuel temperature compliance issue. That sounded like a weird (possibly unnecessary) rule that interfered with the race. It’s a topic compliance officers worldwide have grappled with for years: How many rules are too many?

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) is the governing body for Formula One and many other motorsports. Founded in 1904, the FIA consists of 246 member organizations in 145 countries. They are the super-government for F1, so maintaining compliance with FIA rules is a big deal. And there’s a lot to comply with.

The FIA Formula One Technical Regulations rulebook is 186 pages, the Financial Regulations are 53 pages, and the Sporting Regulations are another 117 pages. That’s 356 pages of rules to govern just ten Formula One teams.

The fuel in Aston Martin’s cars before the race started was too cold, in violation of the rules. Here’s the excerpt from the FIA Formula One Technical Regulation rulebook related to fuel temperature:

No fuel intended for immediate use in a car may be colder be than the lowest of: ten degrees centigrade below ambient temperature, or ten degrees centigrade. When assessing compliance, the ambient temperature will be that recorded by the FIA appointed weather service provider one hour before any practice session or two hours before the race. This information will also be displayed on the timing monitors.

The temperature of fuel intended for use in a car must be measured via an FIA approved and sealed sensor.

OK . . . but why? Is it a safety issue, or something else? In Formula One, it sometimes seems like there is more time spent complying with regulations than car racing. Anyone in the compliance business knows that will earn you a bad reputation.

Compliance departments can get a reputation of being an obstacle — becoming the “Department of No” — from the business side of companies. Now central in most organizations, compliance interacts with almost every other business unit on major decisions. Burdensome rules can bring the core business to a grinding halt.

Compliance teams, like the FIA, exist to keep people safe — out of jail or tire walls. But does that necessitate hundreds of pages of rules and regulations? The FCPA, after all, is only seven pages, and it changed the world.

One of Mary Barra’s first acts as CEO of General Motors was the radical decision to replace the company’s 10-page dress code with just two words: “Dress appropriately.”

Most corporate anti-bribery policies we’ve compared are less than ten pages. That’s a good thing. Certainly, someone within an organization needs to know all the jots and tittles of compliance regulations, but that doesn’t need to be passed on to everyone in the company.

Compliance is a specialty. It requires years of training and thousands of hours of research and experience to master. Nuance can be uncomfortable, and there is a sense of security in knowing precisely what is allowed. But that approach consumes valuable resources. It can also be confusing.

Perhaps a better approach is for an organization to say, “Don’t pay bribes. If you have a question, talk to the compliance officer.” That may be an oversimplification, but employees everywhere should understand the spirit of what it means and how they can get help if needed. 

Accessible, company-wide compliance training compliments this approach. Teaching employees how to identify scenarios that trigger their compliance antennae will pay dividends for years to come.

On the other hand, a strict, voluminous, rules-based system could consume valuable time without accomplishing much, except forcing someone to start from the pit lane. 

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