The JPL Ethics Office

Program History

In the 1980's, corporations and their employees were exposed to a number of public ethics scandals that involved illegal contracting practices, fraudulent financing, bribery, and the like. Investigations substantiated findings of unethical practices that led to the collapse of billion dollar organizations. Consequently, the fall outs mandated institutions to reexamine the way they monitored their business practices to detect and address unethical behaviors and practices of fraud, waste, and abuse within their own organizations and business dealings.

To raise the importance of effective and ethical business environments, several governing requirements were introduced to increase the consciousness of business personnel to promote principled business practices. In 1986, the Defense Industry Initiative was established to ensure that U.S. defense businesses were in compliance with the law; some companies created ombudsman positions in addition to ethics officer roles. The False Claims Act, an American federal law that imposes liability on persons and companies (typically federal contractors) who defraud governmental programs was also created. In 1991, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations were developed. The guidelines encouraged organizations to develop "effective programs to prevent and detect violations of law." Today, we find that cybercrimes, privacy issues and theft of intellectual property are on the rise. Thus, information technology, security requirements, and risk mitigation plans are amended to help safeguard corporations and individuals.

The decision to establish the JPL Ethics Office was based on a recommendation of the JPL Business Ethics Study Group, which was formed by JPL's Manager of Business Operations on November 1, 1989. The Study Group found that Laboratory employees were not generally aware of JPL's ethics policies and did not know where to report ethics violations. It also noted the growing concern in the Federal Government regarding the ethical practices of contractors and recent changes in JPL's prime contract with NASA that emphasized ethics issues. Thus, the JPL Ethics Office was established on a voluntary basis in May 1991. The charter of the office states that it will help the Laboratory fulfill its mission by providing our employees, customers, suppliers, and the public a resource to which they can direct questions or concerns.

Accordingly, the foundation of JPL's ethics program embodies industry best business practices and adherence to important governance standards and regulations that influence the strength of our business and financial dealings within JPL, the community, industry and academia. JPL is committed to being a responsible government contractor committed toward solving ethical business issues and reporting suspected violations of JPL policy and the law without fear of exposure or retaliation.

JPL's commitment to conducting business ethically is rooted in our four key values of Openness, Integrity, Quality and Innovation. Employee behaviors should reflect these values in how they interface with others and in all that they do. This framework allows employees to combine their personal values with JPL values to help make important decisions that have considerable impact on the achievement of JPL's scientific and technical goals. As a result, each employee is a significant contributor in sustaining JPL's ethical and business success.


Defense Industry Initiative, Ethics and Compliance Officers Association, Ethics Resource Center, Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics