In my last post, I discussed recent research suggesting that combating corruption in government bureaucracies requires attention to the selection of personnel – trying to recruit not only the most capable, but also the most honest. Might the general principle apply to private corporations? Should corporate compliance programs place more emphasis than they do on assessing candidates’ integrity at the selection stage (initial hiring or subsequent promotion)? And should law enforcement consider a firm’s efforts at integrity screening when assessing the adequacy of a firm’s compliance program? I don’t have the answers to these questions – I simply don’t know enough about human resource management issues – but I want to raise them in the hopes of starting a discussion of the issue.
Much of the focus in combating corruption in government bureaucracies focuses on creating the right incentives for public servants after they’ve assumed their positions. The goal is usually to create a system of rewards and punishments – and perhaps also a professional culture – that incentivizes honest behavior and deters wrongdoing. Creating those incentives is obviously crucial, but it’s also important not to neglect the selection process – choosing who gets to become a civil servant or public official in the first place. After all, it’s probably a lot easier to help a basically honest person to resist temptation than it is to discourage a venal opportunist from abusing her position. Moreover, selecting the wrong people into public service can create a vicious cycle: a government agency with a reputation for corruption will tend to attract individuals who more interested in abusing their positions, while an agency with a reputation for probity will be more likely to attract individuals interested in serving the public good.