Shortage of consulting groups with government ethics expertise?

dallas city seal

The Dallas City Council last month awarded a contract for ethics training to Navigant Consulting, a publicly-traded firm that “on its website, does not state any expertise in government ethics or training,” according to a post by the folks at City Ethics. Navigant “does, however, have an expertise in consulting to governments on a variety of issues.”

City Ethics acknowledges that it was a partner with the Josephson Institute of Ethics, one of the losing bidders. That’s not the point of the story, though. Instead, it concerns the dearth of qualified bodies with government ethics training.

“The report on the bidding on this project shows how empty the field of government ethics is of experienced consultants,” writes Robert Wechsler, director of research at City Ethics. “As far as I can tell, only two of the bidders had any expertise in government ethics training:  the Josephson Institute (with a character-oriented approach) and the ICMA (with an administrative ethics focus). The other bidders are either management consultants, corporate ethics and compliance trainers, or corporate trainers without an ethics or compliance specialty.”

It’s not sour grapes, or it doesn’t appear to be. It’s just a commentary on the state of ethics training at the municipal level. City Ethics earlier this year released a comprehensive book on ethics in various cities and how policies vary.

As we are talking about Dallas and its ethics contract recipient: Chicago-based Navigant is a mega-corporation with offices in Dallas, Houston and Austin and also touts that it runs some private investigator work. Actually, Navigant runs a large private investigator business, with its state license registered to the Houston office. The site lists a Scott Van Meter as manager of its Texas PI operation; he goes by Kenneth Van Meter on the state’s PI licensing database. He’s also an attorney and represented a couple of plaintiff municipal utility districts in debt and tax cases in Harris County in the ‘90s.

Among those listed on Navigant’s corporate PI license are Monica Weed, who is general counsel and vice president of Navigant, according to Reuters’ business publishing arm. Her most recent compensation package is listed at $730,762, according to Reuters, which describes Navigant as “an independent specialty consulting firm. Professional services include dispute, investigative, economic, operational, risk management technology, financial and regulatory advisory solutions.”

Its board of directors alumni includes Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, who stepped down in 2009. Navigant is also the recipient of over $32 million in stimulus funds, according to Recovery.gov.

The $434,000 training program is a curious one, though. It excludes the one group that controls the money in the city: The City Council.

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Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of city of Dallas seal by flickr user nffcnnr, used via a Creative Commons license.