[March 05, 2015] A few days ago it was discovered that the past U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a private email address to conduct official business. Many accused her of purposefully shielding her communications from review and avoiding public access laws. Email and texting are valuable leadership tools that if not used properly may cause serious problems for the user.
Ms Clinton is not the first politician to use a private email address to conduct government business in an official capacity. In the Department of Defense, such acts are strictly prohibited. However, rules for the reminder of the U.S. Government and state and local governments does not prohibit private email or texting to avoid public review of its content.
Most citizens support the concept of open, transparent government. The fundamentals of the U.S. constitution are based on checks and balances best maintained through rules and regulations that allow oversight by the three branches of government, as well as the media and the public citizenry.
When a politician or any government employee acts to avoid public oversight, whether consciously or not, they show a lack of good leadership qualities and subvert a basic principle of American government. The public already distrusts its politicians and has little faith in government employees; their popularity hovering in the 10% range, just below used car salesmen.
Using email and texting requires focus and the following of two simple rules. 1. There must be a commitment to openness and oversight. There are, however, some exceptions when proprietary or classified information is used … nevertheless, exceptions are rare. 2. Don’t write anything that would embarrass you or your organization if your own grandmother read it or if it was published on the front page of the New York Times.
There are many in government who wish to avoid openness because it’s a nuisance or because they have something to hide. Neither bear up under ethical scrutiny.1 Case in point are the subpoenas issued for all correspondence on the Benghazi congressional investigation where none of Ms Clinton’s emails were first provided.2,3 There may be more wrongdoing on the part of leaders at the State Department.
Senior leaders should be held to a higher ethical standard to include oversight of all their correspondence, either on private email or texting.
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U.S. State Department Correspondence Guidance: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/85756.pdf
U.S. Department of Defense Correspondence Ethics: http://www.dod.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/