Bureau Integriteitsbevordering Openbare Sector / Office for promoting Ethics and Integrity in the PS

The Problem

At the beginning of the 90s, a number of problems became apparent within Dutch society. One of these issues was the blurring of the boundaries between organized crime and the legitimate world, as a possible result of which people with a questionable background could be placed in strategic positions.
In 1992, the government decided to adopt a more active approach to resolving this issue. The realization that a government which acts with integrity is a precondition for a safe society was one of the fundamental starting points for this decision. As the Minister for the Interior said at the time: a government might be corrupt, or it might not be, but a government can never be a little bit corrupt. This well-known address was the first step in a series of activities which led to three amendments of the Civil Servants Act and then to the establishment of BIOS (the Dutch National Office for Promoting Ethics and Integrity in the Public Sector) within the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.

The initial ideas (within the government) about the approach to corruption mainly focused on compliance. This meant that significant investments were made in legislation, regulations and control systems. After the government implemented the first series of measures, new problems became apparent. The construction industry fraud demonstrated that a one-sided focus on compliance is not enough to tackle the problem of corruption at a fundamental level. This created administrative support for the subject of integrity. For this reason, the Civil Servants Act was amended in 2006, with the focus being expanded to include culture and ‘soft controls’. It became compulsory for Public Sector organizations to pursue an integrity policy, and the minimum requirements for this policy were established. In practice, it became clear that it was not easy for organizations to shape their own integrity policy, as a result of which they began to ask for support. For this reason, BIOS was set up in 2004 and launched in 2006. The aim of the office was to help with the formulation of the integrity policy and to enable organizations to do this themselves. This was achieved by offering a wide variety of tools, guidelines and manuals, and by sharing knowledge and advice. The initiative focused on all government organizations within the public sector.

Since 2009, BIOS has been situated within the CAOP. This organization is a private foundation which serves as the knowledge and expertise centre for employers and employees in the public domain. The decision to relocate was made as it was difficult for BIOS to operate within a ministerial context. In addition, this raised the barrier for organizations, as they were now turning for advice to the same Ministry which also serves to monitor the integrity policy. Finally, this was also in line with the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which stipulates that each country must have an independent office that prevents corruption.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The initiative is the establishment of an office for the entire public sector. The mission statement has four components: 1) knowledge sharing, 2) networking function, 3) instrument development and 4) reporting. The intention is for organizations to shape their own integrity policy; BIOS encourages and facilitates this (learning) process. The products and services are offered free of charge or at cost price. Knowledge sharing implies carrying out studies (or having them carried out by third parties) and making knowledge available. The networking function involves bringing organizations together so that they can learn from one another; BIOS plays a connecting role in this process. Instrument development focuses on new products, thus providing organizations with methods to formulate their policy. Finally, the reporting function makes it possible to combine reports which reach us in various different ways and to pass them on to the parties concerned (ministries, umbrella organizations) who can then follow them up.
The products offered by BIOS include various manuals (about conducting integrity studies), guidelines (HRM and integrity, conflicts of interest, incident communication etc.), risk analyses, overviews of relevant legislation and regulations, case law, an overview of scientific research, tools for encouraging the discussion of integrity, guidelines for directors and managers and a computer test for measuring the ethical climate within the organization. BIOS also organizes conferences, expert meetings and knowledge meetings. Finally, BIOS offers courses for new and advanced integrity officials and for integrity advisors. Once a year, BIOS also organizes an Integrity Day which focuses on the new developments within the sector.

The products are based on the Integrity Infrastructure developed by BIOS. This includes the various components which must be taken into account in order to develop a sustainable integrity policy: commitment on the part of the top management, mission and vision, structures and processes, personnel and organization, incidents and evaluation.

Many organizations have benefited from the BIOS activities and products, and BIOS is now being approached by increasing numbers of organizations. It is difficult to assess the true effect of BIOS’ work, as it mainly involves intangible subjects. BIOS also tries to focus on intangible problems, so that attention can be paid to prevention as well as repression. It is important to establish the cause of a problem before it can be resolved. Finding the correct balance between hard and soft measures, or between prevention and repression, is crucial. In addition, it is important for the integrity policy to be guaranteed, for the right people to be involved and for sufficient resources to be available.
Over the past years, BIOS has established that the most important aspect of the integrity policy is awareness. BIOS has observed that the topic requires constant attention, so that people don't ‘just sit back’ under the impression that ‘it's all sorted out now’. BIOS is always looking for new ways to achieve this.

As regards concrete figures, research by the Netherlands Court of Audit reveals that growing numbers of organizations are implementing an integrity policy and that organizations are increasingly raising their awareness of this aspect. However, it has also become clear that organizations can sometimes tend to lapse a little and that, on occasion, nothing has yet been organized in a number of crucial areas. This shows that there is still enough work for BIOS. The results of the research carried out by Transparency International (The Corruption Perceptions Index) show that the Netherlands is one of the least corrupt countries in the world.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The former Minister for the Interior and Kingdom Relations (Mr. Johan Remkes) set up BIOS. This was a direct result of the conclusions drawn from the report of the Parliamentary Inquiry committee who investigated the construction industry fraud. In 2004, formal permission for the establishment of the office was granted. In 2006, the initiative was launched in conjunction with the amendments to the Civil Servants Act, with the aim of offering support to organizations right from the start.

Several parties were involved at the outset: the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the umbrella organizations of the, provinces, municipalities, water boards and other parties. In the beginning, various universities were also involved because of their specific knowledge of the subject.

In 2009, the office became independent and relocated outside the Ministry. It seemed that not all organizations dared to ask for advice because of the two-sided nature of the Ministry (offering support on the one hand, and monitoring on the other). The new location was intended to make the office more approachable and offer greater independence. However, the office is still being subsidized and has to account for its activities every year.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
A detailed stakeholder survey was conducted to find out whether an office such as BIOS would be desirable and which tasks would fall within its remit. The survey established that there was indeed a demand for such an office, and that the relevant parties mainly wished to work independently but with the ability to request support at crucial moments. In the beginning, BIOS clearly profiled itself as a support organization rather than a prescriptive body. This created a low-threshold image, which inspired confidence and led to parties approaching BIOS of their own accord. When BIOS was set up, the employees were still civil servants (this changed upon the transition to the private CAOP in 2009), which meant that BIOS was trusted more than commercial parties. In addition, the employees also had a greater awareness of how the government operated. After a few years, BIOS opted for a more proactive approach. Alongside a demand-driven approach, BIOS has also chosen a supply-oriented approach in which signals from the sector can be translated into products which offer added value for multiple parties. Experience has shown that the sector is not always capable of articulating its own demand, but BIOS can do so.

After the establishment of BIOS, in which the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the umbrella organizations of the decentralized public sector organizations, scientists and special interest groups were involved, all the relevant parties received a letter informing them of the new organization. At the same time, a comprehensive website was launched to provide interested parties with information about the knowledge developed by BIOS since its formal inception in 2004. In this period (between the formal establishment and the formal launch), two important products were developed: the SAINT risk analysis (integrity self-assessment) and the Integrity Cube, a tool which encourages the discussion of integrity dilemmas. These products were immediately made available to the target group, allowing them to start shaping their integrity policy without delay.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
In 2004 the decision was taken to start designing the office. In 2006 it was launched officialy and in 2009 it became independent.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Since its inception, BIOS has needed to overcome several obstacles. First of all, managerial opposition was encountered. Several MT members felt that the establishment of the office was unnecessary and undesirable. In their opinion BIOS should be outsourced. However, as the Minister was convinced of the importance of the office, it was set up anyway. A second obstacle involved the staffing of the office. Finding the right people, who are very familiar with the public sector but who can also help with advice and development, is not easy. This is an ongoing problem which BIOS is struggling with. Other obstacles include cutbacks (BIOS has to do the same or more with less money) and independence. Theoretically, BIOS is independent but in practice the agenda is often determined by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, as this is where the subsidy comes from.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
BIOS was initially established for the period 2006 – 2015, with a budget of 1.4 million euros per year, which has gradually been diminished. The budget is intended to fund staff and newly developed products. In the technical sense, only the possibility of building a website was made available. Other matters were set up and developed on BIOS’ own initiative. Over the years, the staffing level has fluctuated greatly, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. The biggest challenge is finding and retaining the right staff.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The office is sustainable and could be replicated in different countries. BIOS is often asked by the governments of other countries to explain the BIOS philosophy and approach. BIOS mainly focuses on prevention. We also issue advice about repression, but this is always in relation to prevention. The most important elements of BIOS’ approach are increasing awareness of integrity dilemmas and learning how to deal with them, together with setting up the organization in accordance with sound principles in order to minimize risks and guarantee integrity. The resources for doing so have already been described above. BIOS plays a clear role in this context by bringing in various different actors. Thanks to BIOS’ independence, BIOS occupies a position between the Ministry of the Interior (which also plays a monitoring role in the integrity arena) and the implementing organizations. BIOS has a low threshold and focuses on facilitation and advice, so when organizations approach the office, it can always provide them with an answer which they can implement in practice.

Organizations have to be able to ‘translate’ the BIOS products and advice into their day-to-day practices themselves. Finally, it is impossible for all government organizations to describe the best solution for their problems. This approach means that BIOS is able to offer its services to a large group of interested and relevant organizations. In addition, the current subsidy structure offers a framework: BIOS has 6 full-time employees and receives an annual subsidy of (now) 1.1 million euros. These limited resources must be deployed strategically in order to guarantee the maximum returns. In fact, this is one of the main vulnerabilities in the current situation. The limited number of employees creates a vulnerability. There are a number of specialists who cannot easily be replaced. Finding employees with the right background, attitude and experience is not an easy task.
As regards knowledge and experience, BIOS is also growing in line with the most advanced organizations in the integrity arena. Several organizations tackled the subject seriously as soon as it became compulsory. This has now been the case for a number of years, and these organizations are continuing to develop. BIOS is developing along with them and is also tackling increasingly complex issues. The knowledge acquired as a result is being made available to organizations which are at an earlier stage of their growth process, so that they in turn can also benefit from this knowledge. This leads to a knowledge creation spiral which can benefit all the parties concerned.

BIOS has chosen a ‘low-key’ approach which makes it easy for any organization to turn to us. The website is very comprehensive, with a wide variety of information. The BIOS subsidy is guaranteed until 2015. After this, BIOS will need to examine possible ways forward. Currently, the focus of BIOS is changing to a more strategic view so that BIOS can play more of a reporting role and establish the challenges of the future.

As far as BIOS is aware, the initiative (as it has been developed) has not yet been copied. Within the Netherlands, however, BIOS has encouraged organizations to cooperate and develop ideas together.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
BIOS has made a difference in the integrity arena in the Netherlands. A wide variety of organizations in the public domain have found their way to BIOS, adopted the BIOS approach, or based their own policy on this approach. BIOS is often asked to give a presentation, organize a meeting or training session or to provide development support for a project. As BIOS is ‘low-key’ and places the focus on the strength of the organizations themselves, it is able to achieve long-term success. However, as mentioned earlier, measuring the precise output and outcome of BIOS is easier said than done. BIOS is still looking for a good method of measuring its impact. Currently, we are developing a new product which may help.

All in all, the extensive BIOS network, its low-threshold approach, the low (or non-existent) cost of its involvement and its experience are the success factors which have allowed BIOS to play an important role in the Netherlands and to continue to do so.

The most important lesson BIOS has learned is that constant attention must be paid to the topic; as soon as attention lapses, risks immediately arise. In addition, one of the most important points is that the commitment of the top management is crucial. As soon as they stop setting a good example within the organization, this is a recipe for failure. Safeguarding the policy is important too. Attention must also be paid to integrity at the political level. Over the years, BIOS has experienced various ministers and cabinets who have all made their own mark on the policy, choosing their own approach to the topic. Genuine independence would make it easier for BIOS to bring a little more consistency into its approach. However, this will remain a spearhead for the future.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Bureau Integriteitsbevordering Openbare Sector / Office for promoting Ethics and Integrity in the PS
Institution Type:   Organization Performing Outsourced Public Service Functions  
Contact Person:   Marijntje Zweegers
Title:   Head of BIOS  
Telephone/ Fax:   0031 70 376 5933
Institution's / Project's Website:   www.integriteitoverheid.nl
E-mail:   m.zweegers@integriteitoverheid.nl  
Address:   Lange Voorhout 13
Postal Code:   2514 EA
City:   Den Haag
Country:   Netherlands

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