Decision making: are we asking the right questions?

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- One of the unique privileges of serving as a staff judge advocate is helping people make decisions that affect both their own professional and personal lives, as well as decisions that affect the way they lead people. The types and implications of these decisions vary greatly. From what I've seen, most of us wrangle with the same fundamental conflict in decision making -- what the right thing to do is; versus what we think others want us to do. The law can help.

In fact, Congress enacted laws specifically for all federal employees to help guide our ethical decision making. I wish I could say these laws are always clear, concise and absolute. That's not the case however. There is ambiguity in the law on purpose, so the underlying ethical principle of that particular law can be applied to many diverse questions. I think this is where the conflict sneaks into the picture for some of us when we're making decisions. In these situations, our first core value of "Integrity First" can help.

It seems that because of the ambiguity in the law, sometimes we try to find the loophole, or way around the law, when making a decision, instead of trying to ensure that our decision fits squarely within the law. On occasion, you'll hear "the law doesn't specifically say we can't do it, so that must mean we can." Although that certainly may be true, if the comment is made in an attempt to arrive at a decision because we think it's what somebody else wants us to do, instead of doing what our "spidey sense" tells us is right, then we should let our core value of "Integrity First" guide our decision making.

Congress enacted the laws that guide how we ethically perform our duties to protect the public's trust in government; and specifically as it pertains to us - to protect the public's trust in the Air Force. Even if the laws, instructions or regulations don't clearly address our particular question, like a specific fundraising idea for our booster club or taking a short-cut in the proscribed approval process for buying office supplies, we should ask what the spirit that underlies the law is. Now that's integrity! Asking questions to ensure the decisions we make are in-sync with behaviors that protect the public's trust in how we do our jobs is expected, and I'm sure we all agree, very admirable.   

I hope you're excited about the next time you're faced with a challenging decision where there is wiggle room to either steer toward or around the loophole. When it happens, just remember to ask yourself "how does this decision further the public's trust in the Air Force?" We'll all be applauding your integrity.