GC of New D.C. Ethics Board Aims for 'Confidence in Government'
Stacie Pittell is charting new ethics territory in the District of Columbia. In December, she became the first general counsel for the recently formed District of Columbia Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA), which enforces the code of conduct for all D.C. employees.
I think its important that government have integrity, and I think people look to their local government to provide services for them, Pittell says. They need their government to have integrity, and be honest in doing the best it can to provide those necessary services.
At BEGA, Pittell will be supervising a staff of investigators and attorneys, as well as conducting ethics training for District employees, and drafting advisory opinions. The job dovetails with her deep-seated interest in working for local government.
Pittell most recently served as assistant inspector general for investigations at the Districts Office of the Inspector General. Before that, she logged 15 years in the New York City Department of Investigation in a variety of roles, including as an attorney and as a supervisor of investigators.
The BEGA GC got her start as a prosecutor in the Kings County District Attorneys Office, located in Brooklyn, New York. After a little more than five years, she moved to NYCs Department of Investigation, which oversees all New York City mayoral agencies, except the police department. If you got money from or did business with city government, we had jurisdiction over you, Pittell explains.
She honed her investigative skills on criminal, administrative, and conflict of interest matters. One of Pittells most memorable cases involved a long-running bribery scheme in the city tax assessors office. Her department teamed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York.
It had a huge impact on the city because it affected tax assessments, particularly of the large commercial buildings, which really affected the tax base, Pittell says. We got back a decent amount of money, but nowhere near what the scheme had cost the city over the decade the scheme had gone on.
In 2008, Pittell relocated to the Washington D.C. area. She liked that the Districts inspector general office had the same focus and goals as New Yorks department of investigation. But when the opportunity arose to work with BEGA, she was drawn to a department that has a new role to fill in D.C. government. The agency had its first official meeting in July 2012.
With its freshly minted jurisdiction over enforcement of the Districts code of conduct, BEGA can issue penalties outside the longstanding criminal and administrative methods conducted by other agencies. We have the ability to investigate code of conduct violations, and if we find there was a code of conduct violation, sanction the person regardless of whether there was or was not criminal and/or administrative action, she says.
Providing ethics training and giving advice to current District employees is also a big part of the job. The board operates with a safe harbor provision, which protects those who seek advice from the office. And Pittell says that if BEGA staff members introduce themselves and show theyre not very scary, she believes government workers are more likely to reach out to the agency for help.
Most people want to do the right thing, she says, but notes that sometimes they just need a little information on how to do that.
Pittell says shes looking forward to helping the agency develop during its first year of operation. Hopefully people will, over time, have more confidence in their government, she says. Because theyll feel that were herelooking out for them and making sure that government employees and officials have integrity and are operating in ways theyre supposed towith the public interest in mind at all times.
Pittell earned her J.D. from the Washington College of Law at American University. She also holds an M.A. in English from Brooklyn College (CUNY), and a B.A. from the University of Rochester.