A state with a long history of political corruption is giving its employees training in how to avoid more scandalous headlines.
All Illinois state workers are required by a new reform law to annually undergo ethics training, which started last week for 58,000 employees and continues through May. The training involves a computerized test, which presents a variety of realistic dilemmas and asks employees to choose the most ethical route out of the predicaments.
The training comes as a scandal plays out involving former Gov. George Ryan, who has been indicted and accused of taking cash, gifts, vacations and other favors in exchange for state business for friends and associates.
One scenario in the training closely aligns with real events that led Rep. Lee Daniels to step down as the top Republican in the Illinois House and head of the state Republican party. He has not been charged with any crimes, but he is accused of using his employees to do campaign work on state time.
The test asks whether it is OK for an employee to skip lunch with a colleague in order to go home and make fund-raising calls for the boss, who is running for re-election. Workers learn that while the employee is doing nothing illegal, it creates the appearance of a conflict and should be avoided.
"We're not trying to indict the former House Minority Leader in this scenario," said Rebecca Rausch, spokeswoman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "But it is a scenario that the state of Illinois is familiar with and we want them to know why this isn't OK, why this shouldn't be going on in state government."
Blagojevich has also kept ethics in the news — for signing into law the toughest ethics reform package in the state’s history. At the signing ceremony last month, Blagojevich called the package "revolutionary." He said, "Today, we are reestablishing the primacy of principle over politics, and in Illinois, that is real change."
The training covers key provisions of the new ethics law, including gifts, political activities, fund-raising, bribery and official misconduct. Employees must answer eight of 10 test questions correctly, or they have to retake the training and the test.
"To truly change the culture in state government, we need to ensure that everyone involved – from the elected officials down to the mail-room clerks – understands what the rules are and how they apply to our work as employees of the public," Blagojevich said in a statement.