Despite extensive overseas travel by their employees, six agencies within the Homeland Security Department lack broad policies and training programs on precisely what types of questionable personal conduct are permitted in foreign countries during off-hours.
“The department has some limited, department-wide policies governing off-duty conduct in general, but the policies do not specifically address employees’ conduct in other countries,” the department’s inspector general wrote in a report dated May 27. “The policies only address some aspects of drinking alcoholic beverages and using drugs; they do not address solicitation of prostitutes or engaging in notoriously disgraceful conduct,” though current policies do prohibit driving overseas while under the influence of alcohol.
Such questions have arisen during the past several years as employees of the Secret Service were caught patronizing prostitutes during a trip to Colombia to guard the president. Similar issues arose concerning military officers and employees at the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency, which are part of the Justice Department.
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DHS had stationed some 1,500 employees in 308 cities in 80 countries, as of August 2015, the report said, but as a department does not offer training in off-duty conduct. The overseas employees come from Customs and Border Protection (48 percent), Coast Guard (27 percent) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (12 percent), the Transportation Security Administration (4 percent), the Secret Service (4 percent) and U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (4 percent).
The department does publish a management directive on ethical conduct that says, “All employees will maintain especially high standards of honesty, impartiality, character, and conduct to ensure the proper performance of government business and the continual trust and confidence of the citizens of the United States . . . These principles apply to official conduct as well as private conduct that affect in any way the ability of employees or the department to effectively accomplish the work of the DHS.”
But because of variations among government agencies on requirements for private behavior, the watchdog cited as a model the State Department’s Foreign Service Manual. It allows alcohol in moderation, threatens termination for use of illegal drugs, and acknowledges philosophical differences on private behavior involving prostitutes.
The manual does condemn “notoriously disgraceful conduct,” that, “were it to become widely known, would embarrass, discredit, or subject to opprobrium the perpetrator, the Foreign Service, and the U.S.” Examples the State Department gives include “frequenting of prostitutes, engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations, spousal abuse, neglect or abuse of children, manufacturing or distributing pornography, entering into debts that cannot be paid, or using one’s position or immunity to profit or favor another or create the impression of gaining or giving improper favor.”
The IG recommended creating a departmentwide policy on overseas misconduct and greater training. The department generally agreed, but “disagreed with the premise that to ensure proper behavior, conduct policy must specify that it also applies to employees traveling or working abroad,” the report said.