Corruption has a habit of spreading to all facets of society. Whether it begins in government, business, financial markets, or civil society, if left unchecked it soon permeates them all. It entrenches those at the top of the income brackets, stifling competition and dooming the millions at the bottom to lifetimes of poverty. While ending the economic and health crises caused by the COVID pandemic undoubtedly must be the top priority of the Biden Administration, the U.S. must also prioritize anti-corruption efforts both domestic and international. The stakes are too high, and the consequences of not acting too great, for the Biden Administration not to make anti-corruption a top priority.
Coalition for Integrity’s report “Anti-Corruption Recommendations for the Biden Administration” lays out the Coalition’s views on the key domestic issues that must be addressed to promote honesty and transparency in the Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. government – and efforts to address anti-corruption issues on an international level.
While ending the COVID pandemic and restarting economic growth must undoubtedly be tackled first, immediate steps to promote honesty and transparency in government must be taken urgently as well. Trust in the federal government has been on a steady decline for decades and hovers at an all-time-low. According to a 2020 Pew Research study, only 20% of Americans say they trust the government to mostly “do the right thing.” While the new administration faces several pressing concerns, changing attitudes toward the federal government will be crucial to long-term success. By taking actions to promote transparency and strengthen enforcement of ethics laws, the Executive and Legislative Branches can begin to regain public trust.
The Coalition for Integrity’s report touches on several major areas of domestic policy including:
- Conflicts of Interest by the President, Vice President and Family Members
- Abuses of Presidential Power
- Strengthening the Office of Government Ethics
- Protecting Federal Whistleblowers
Internationally, corruption weakens economies and governments, and where high levels of corruption exist, authoritarianism and fragile states often coincide. Corruption remains an obstacle to peace, equity, and human rights all around the world. To make progress on the most challenging issues of our times the Biden Administration must address global corruption. The United States historically has been an international leader in anti-corruption efforts, with some of our policies and laws serving as blueprints for other nations to follow suit. Anti-corruption efforts continue to be popular with the general public around the world and U.S. support for anti-corruption initiatives is likely to be welcome in many quarters. Consequently, renewing U.S. global anti-corruption efforts would align well with the Biden Administration’s foreign policy goals of diplomacy and cooperation.
Combating foreign bribery requires cooperative international efforts and stringent enforcement. In a global economy, with sophisticated networks, it is not just corporations seeking a competitive edge that participate in the transfer of bribes. Foreign government officials also solicit bribes. Without efforts to prosecute both the demand-side and supply sides, transnational bribery will continue to funnel large sums of money to corrupt officials. The harm caused by transnational bribery of public officials is significant as it erodes public confidence in government, contributes to larger fiscal deficits, increases income inequality, and leaves developing nations especially vulnerable to these harms. Foreign bribery also undercuts U.S. companies that operate with integrity and impedes economic growth. It is vital to our economic stability and recovery following the COVID pandemic that there are international enforcement mechanisms to hold nations participating in bribery accountable.
The Coalition for Integrity’s report has several recommendations for the Administration on the International Anti-Corruption agenda including:
- Reasserting International Leadership in Anti-Corruption
- Tackling Transnational Bribery
- Tackling the Demand Side of Foreign Bribery
- Beneficial Ownership Disclosure and Addressing Illicit Financial Flows
- Extractive Industry Transparency
It is crucial, now more than ever, that the United States engages internationally to fight corruption. Corruption remains one of the greatest impediments to achieving international goals in sustainability and economic development by keeping vital services from societies, driving away foreign investment, and stripping natural resources. Tackling corruption now, when trust in our government is at a low, should not be daunting but rather an opportunity to show our role in foreign policy as a leader in anti-corruption. By committing to strong enforcement efforts, multilateral cooperation, pressure on bad actors, and through supporting legislative efforts that prioritize anti-corruption efforts, the Biden Administration can reassert U.S. international leadership and make strides in combatting corruption around the world. The U.S. has proven its leadership in international anti-corruption efforts in the past and we can be leaders once more.
About the Expert:
Shruti Shah is President & CEO of the Coalition for Integrity, where she leads the Coalition’s development and promotion of approaches to combat corruption in business and government. She also leads Coalition for Integrity’s work in promoting greater transparency and accountability to stem the flow of proceeds of corruption, with attention to reforms in the areas of beneficial ownership transparency and anti- money laundering laws.