Here's a question: If no training is given and a government employee ends up breaking the law, can they claim ignorance and be exonerated? It's a legitimate inquiry in light of recent reports alleging that President Trump's team turned down an ethics course for Cabinet members and other appointees. And it seems like that training would have addressed some of the key areas where the new administration has struggled over the past few weeks.
For instance, according to Politico, the course "could have better prepared officials for working within existing laws and executive orders, and provided guidance on how to navigate Senate confirmation for nominees and political appointees, how to deal with congressional and media scrutiny, and how to work with Congress and collaborate with agencies."
Certainly, that encompasses plenty of meaningful, even indispensable, knowledge for any government official. But it might have been especially useful to the Trump administration, given that many of the highest-ranking members are new to government work — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Jared Kushner, and of course, Trump himself among them.
This program had been employed by the administrations of both President George W. Bush and President Obama. But in a letter from Matthew Gormley, of the General Services Administration, he wrote to companies putting in bids for such training that, "As a result of a change in Presidential Transition Team leadership after the Nov. 8, 2016, election, there have been changes in the PTT’s goals for the political appointee orientation program." One of those changes was an apparent desire to pick the speakers and control all the content of the training.
This has puzzled some, as the stipulations for government ethics should not be changing with each administration. Therefore, the training that worked for Obama and Bush should not pose problems for the new Trump administration.
Stephanie Grisham, a White House spokesperson, said Thursday that "Required trainings, including ethics, were provided to appointees by in-house counsels prior to assuming office." She went on to say that an "experienced compliance team" had been "ramped up" to offer adequate training, and implied that saving money was part of the reason for foregoing the previous program. (Its cost was estimated at around $1 million.)
Given the recent controversies surrounding Trump's cabinet, some have raised questions about the effectiveness of such in-house training.