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Military Ethics and Conflicts of Interest

Standards of Ethical Conduct

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DoDD 5500.7, Standards of Conduct, provides guidance to military personnel on standards of conduct and ethics. Violations of the punitive provisions by military personnel can result in prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Violations of the punitive provisions by civilian personnel may result in disciplinary action without regard to the issue of criminal liability. Military members and civilian employees who violate these standards, even if such violations do not constitute criminal misconduct, are subject to administrative actions, such as reprimands. The use of the term "DoD Employee" in this article includes civilian employees and military members.

Ethical Values

Ethics are standards by which one should act based on values. Values are core beliefs such as duty, honor, and integrity that motivate attitudes and actions. Not all values are ethical values (integrity is; happiness is not). Ethical values relate to what is right and wrong and thus take precedence over nonethical values when making ethical decisions. DoD employees should carefully consider ethical values when making decisions as part of official duties. Primary ethical values include:

Honesty. Being truthful, straightforward, and candid are aspects of honesty.

Truthfulness is required. Deceptions are usually easily uncovered. Lies erode credibility and undermine public confidence. Untruths told for seemingly altruistic reasons (to prevent hurt feelings, to promote good will, etc.) are nonetheless resented by the recipients.

Straightforwardness adds frankness to truthfulness and is usually necessary to promote public confidence and to ensure effective, efficient conduct of operations. Truths presented in such a way as to lead recipients to confusion, misinterpretation, or inaccurate conclusions are not productive. Such indirect deceptions can promote ill-will and erode openness, especially when there is an expectation of frankness.

Candor is the forthright offering of unrequested information. It is necessary according to the gravity of the situation and the nature of the relationships. Candor is required when a reasonable person would feel betrayed if the information were withheld. In some circumstances, silence is dishonest; yet in other circumstances, disclosing information would be wrong and perhaps unlawful.

Integrity. Being faithful to one’s convictions is part of integrity. Following principles, acting with honor, maintaining independent judgment, and performing duties with impartiality help to maintain integrity and avoid conflicts of interest and hypocrisy.

Loyalty. Fidelity, faithfulness, allegiance, and devotion are all synonyms for loyalty. Loyalty is the bond that holds the nation and the Federal Government together and the balm against dissension and conflict. It is not blind obedience or unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. Loyalty requires careful balancing among various interests, values, and institutions in the interest of harmony and cohesion.

Accountability. DoD employees are required to accept responsibility for their decisions and the resulting consequences. This includes avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. Accountability promotes careful, well-thought-out decisionmaking and limits thoughtless action.

Fairness. Open-mindedness and impartiality are important aspects of fairness. DoD employees must be committed to justice in the performance of their official duties. Decisions must not be arbitrary, capricious, or biased. Individuals must be treated equally and with tolerance.

Caring. Compassion is an essential element of good government. Courtesy and kindness, both to those we serve and to those we work with, help to ensure individuals are not treated solely as a means to an end. Caring for others is the counterbalance against the temptation to pursue the mission at any cost.

Respect. To treat people with dignity, to honor privacy, and to allow self-determination are critical in a government of diverse people. Lack of respect leads to a breakdown of loyalty and honesty within a government and brings chaos to the international community.

Promisekeeping. No government can function for long if its commitments are not kept. DoD employees are obligated to keep their promises in order to promote trust and cooperation. Because of the importance of promisekeeping, DoD employees must only make commitments within their authority.

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