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The 1981 GAO Report

The year was 1981.

The FCPA was a mere infant – approximately 3.5 years old. Those living with it were concerned with its ambiguities and complying with it.

In March 1981, the “investigative arm” of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, “Impact of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on U.S. Business.” (See here and here).

The report was based, in part, on a GAO questionnaire survey of 250 companies randomly selected from the Fortune 1000 list of the largest industrial firms in the U.S.

The questionnaire addressed the FCPA’s relationship to the following four areas: (1) corporate policies and/or codes of conduct, (2) corporate systems of accountability, (3) cost burdens, if any, incurred by management to comply with the act, and (4) corporate opinions regarding the (i) acts effect on U.S. corporate foreign sales, (ii) the clarity of the act’s provisions, (iii) the potential effectiveness of an international antibribery agreement, and (iv) perceived effectiveness of the act in reducing questionable payments.

The GAO also discussed the FCPA’s impact with leading public accounting firms, professional accounting and auditing organizations, professional legal associations and business and public interest groups. In addition, the GAO discussed enforcement of the FCPA with DOJ and SEC officials and examined documentation relating to enforcement activities. Also interviewed by the GAO were officials from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Department of Commerce, Treasury, and State.

The GAO report covers all the topics listed above. However, this post relates to the clarity of the FCPA’s provisions.

Chapter 4 of the Report is titled “Issues Surrounding the Act’s Antibribery Provisions.”

The chapter begins by noting that there is “confusion over what constitutes compliance with the act’s antibribery provisions.”

The report notes that “corporate and governmental officials have criticized the anti-bribery provisions as being ambiguous about what constitutes compliance.”

The ambiguities include confusion or uncertainty about a host of issues, including the “definition of ‘foreign official.””

At the time, the term “foreign official” specifically excluded any employee whose duties are essentially ministerial or clerical.” This exclusion was eliminated in the 1988 amendments to the FCPA. Otherwise the definition of “foreign official” the GAO report found to be ambiguous is same today – “any officer or employee of a foreign government or one of its departments, agencies or instrumentalties.” [Note -the public international organization prong was added in 1998].

The report notes:

“This definition has been criticized as unclear. Lawyers we contacted questioned whether employees of public corporations, such as national airlines or nationalized companies, are considered foreign officials. Similar questions have surfaced in countries – particularly developing countries – where there are small and frequently closely related groups, including both business and government relationships as well as families. Individuals within these groups frequently move between the private and public sectors, often without a clear distinction.”

The report then discusses the DOJ’s guidance program and begins by noting that “President Carter expressed concern over the potential effect of the act’s alleged ambiguities in September 1978 – only 9 months after its passage.” “To reduce this uncertainty, he directed the Department of Justice to give the business community guidance concerning its enforcement intentions under the act.”

The report notes that in March 1980, the DOJ implemented its “long awaited guidance program” but that the “program has yet to effectively address the ambiguities, and it is doubtful it will.”

In concluding Chapter 4 of the Report, the GAO notes:

“the act is an expression of congressional policy, and rigorously defined and completely unambiguous requirements may be impractical and could provide a roadmap for corporate bribery. On other hand, companies, whether registered with SEC or domestic concerns under Department of Justice jurisdiction, should be subject to clear and consistent demands by the Government agencies responsible for enforcing the act.”

An option the GAO recommends is that “the Justice Department, SEC, and other interested agencies […] offer legislative proposals which would amend the act to more explicitly define the antibribery provisions and [such an amendment] could cover concepts such as the definition of “foreign official.”

GAO notes “because of the importance of the act and the questions and concerns about the antibribery provisions, close congressional oversight is needed.”

Not surprsingly, both DOJ and SEC disagreed with the GAO’s findings. In its responses, the agencies attack, not the substance of the findings, but the GAO’s methodology.

The GAO report states:

“Both SEC and Justice disagree with our recommendations that they develop alternative ways to address the antibribery provisions. They contend that our statistics suggest that ambiguities in the act are not a sigifnicaint problem.”

In 1981, the investigative arm of Congress found, based on extensive study, that the FCPA’s “foreign official” element was ambiguous.

Here we are some thirty years later having the same discussion.

[Here is another interesting nugget. In June 1981, John Fedders was named to be the SEC’s Director of Enforcement, replacing Stanley Sporkin who left to become general counsel at the CIA. During a news conference, Fedders “pledged to enforce, with discretion, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which he criticized as being ambiguous.” See Owen Ullmann, “Corporate Lawyer Gets SEC Enforcement Post,” Associated Press, June 29, 1981.]

FCPA Debarment Bill Introduced

Last week, Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced H.R. 5366 (see here).

Titled the “Overseas Contractor Reform Act,” the bill states that “it is the policy of the United States Government that no Government contracts or grants should be awarded to individuals or companies who violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977.”

The bill states, “any person found to be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 shall be proposed for debarment from any contract or grant awarded by the Federal Government within 30 days after a final judgment of such violation.”

However, there is a big “unless” qualifier.

The qualifier is “unless waived by the head of a Federal Agency.” The bill states: “The head of a Federal agency may waive this section for a Federal contract or grant. Any such waiver shall be reported to Congress by the head of the agency concerned within 30 days from the date of the waiver, along with an accompanying justification.”

Because most FCPA enforcement actions are settled through a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) or deferred prosecution agreements (DPA) (see here), the bill may need some tweaking if it is to be effective.

Among other issues will be: is a company that agrees to an NPA or DPA to resolve an FCPA case “found to be in violation of the FCPA.” Likely not.

Also, the bill defines “final judgment” as when “all appeals of the judgment have been finally determined, or all time for filing such appeals has expired.” Again, this assumes that all FCPA enforcement actions are resolved through actual judicial proceedings – which is not how FCPA enforcement works in many cases.

Other issues with the bill is that “persons” merely includes: an individual, a partnership and a corporation. Other business entities are equally capable of violating the FCPA and the bill, to be most effective, should adopt the definition of “domestic concern” in the FCPA. (see 78dd-2(h)(1) here).

Other potential shortcomings with the bill is that it only applies to violations of the FCPA’s antibribery provisions. Thus, the bill would not be triggered by the recent “bribery, yet no bribery” cases (Daimler, BAE, and Siemens) – see here, here and here. In these cases, despite DOJ allegations that would seem to establish that the company violated the FCPA’s antibribery provisions, none of these companies were charged with violating the FCPA’s antibribery provisions. Instead, non-FCPA charges or FCPA books and records and internal controls violations were charged in an attempt to avoid application of the European Union debarment provisions. (This fact is apparent from the DOJ’s sentencing memos in the cases – see here).

The big picture flaw with H.R. 5366 (as currently drafted) is it assumes all FCPA enforcement actions are resolved through judicial proceedings and it assumes all FCPA enforcement actions are resolved with charges that actually fit the facts.

Neither of these assumptions are accurate – that why I call FCPA enforcement, in many cases, a facade.

Nevertheless, despite the shortcomings of H.R. 5366 as drafted, the bill is a step in the right direction.

The bill has been referred to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Yesterday’s post (see here) profiled a letter from the Chairman of that committee, Edolphus Towns (D-NY), to Attorney General Holder regarding debarment issues.

Congressman Towns Is Asking The Right Questions

One interesting, surprising, and controversial aspect of FCPA enforcement is that the U.S. government remains a lucrative customer for many FCPA violators, including some of the most egregious violators.

Last December, on the one-year anniversary of the record-setting Siemens enforcement actions, I ran this post – “Siemens … The Year After.”

Among other things, the post noted that in the year since resolution of the Siemens FCPA matter, the U.S. government continues to do substantial business with the company it charged with engaging in a pattern of bribery “unprecedented in scale and geographic scope.”

Using www.recovery.gov, the post then identifies many of the hundreds of government contracts awarded to Siemens’ business units with funds made available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $787 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in February 2009.

These contracts have been awarded by the following government agencies: Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the General Services Administration. According to Recovery.gov, even the DOJ (i.e. the same government agency that prosecuted Siemens for a pattern of bribery the agency termed “unprecedented in scale and geographic scope”) awarded a Siemens business unit a contract funded with stimulus dollars. Because these are just government contracts awarded with stimulus money, they represent merely the tip of the iceberg.

Siemens is not alone.

In February, BAE settled “FCPA-like” charges. Since the enforcement action, the company has been inking contracts with U.S. government agencies left and right.

Last week it was a $10.7 million contract with the U.S. Army (see here). The week before it was a $5.5 million contract and a $10 million contract with U.S. government agencies (see here and here).

Numerous other FCPA violators could be listed as well.

Against this backdrop, Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is asking the right questions.

In a May 18th letter to Attorney General Eric Holder (see here) the Committee expresses its concern “that settlements of civil and criminal cases by DOJ are being used as a shield to foreclose other appropriate remedies, such as suspension and debarment, that protect the government from continuing to do business with contractors who do not have satisfactory records of quality performance and business ethics.”

The letter specifically mentions Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), including its 2009 FCPA enforcement action (see here and here).

The letter notes that “remarkably, neither the criminal [FCPA] conviction” nor KBR’s other legal woes “have precluded KBR from continuing to receive new government contracts.”

The letter then correctly notes, as detailed above, that “KBR does not appear to be an isolated example of this inconsistent policy whereby DOJ pursues fines and criminal sanctions for illegal actions by government contractors, yet the negotiated resolution of these cases does not have any effect on the company’s eligibility to continue to receive new contracts. In fact, an agreement by DOJ to intervene on the company’s behalf in any collateral proceedings, such as suspension and debarment, is a staple of deferred prosecution agreements.”

The letter continues:

“This type of clause, in which DOJ agrees to take the company’s side in suspension and debarment proceedings, has become standard and continues to this day. In a settlement just last month in which Daimler paid $185 million to settle criminal and civil charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, DOJ “agrees to cooperate with Daimler” “[w]ith respect to Daimler’s present reliability and responsibility as a government contractor.” (See here for the Deferred Prosecution Agreement – para 21).

The letter concludes by the Committee asking for answers to the following questions by May 28th.

1. Does DOJ consider resolution of charges to foreclose action by other government agencies to suspend or debar companies from contracting?

2. In view of the fact that suspension and debarment is not a penalty, but is an important means for government agencies to protect themselves from unscrupulous and poorly performing contractors, please provide a detailed explanation of whether the Justice Department believes it is in the government’s best interest to continue to award contracts to those with a record of violations of law.

3. Does DOJ consult with federal government contracting authorities when entering into settlement agreements with companies that compete for government contracts?

4. Identify all instances in which DOJ officials intervened in a suspension and debarment proceeding on behalf of government contractors since 2005 and explain the basis for the DOJ intervention.

These are all the right questions to ask of the DOJ.

I’ve noted in numerous other posts (and elsewhere) that DOJ’s deterrance message will not fully be heard until an FCPA violator is debarred from receiving lucrative government contracts.

For a copy of the Committee’s news release (see here).

Is the FCPA a Government Cash Cow?

Last December, I noticed this piece which discussed the increase in FCPA enforcement. One reason, according to the authors (including a former assistant director of the Division Enforcement of the SEC) – “governments will keep pursuing corrupt business practices for one very simple reason–it’s lucrative.”

Interesting point isn’t it?

If one were to calculate the “rate of return” / “return on investment” in a typical Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action it would be enormous. Most FCPA enforcement actions result from corporate voluntary disclosures whereby company counsel deliver to the prosecutors three-ring binders of the relevant documents and witness interview memos from the internal investigation and otherwise cooperate. Thus, it does not take much in terms of government resources to prosecute a typical FCPA enforcement action which typically leads to multi-million dollar fines and penalties.

Where does this money go?

Straight to the U.S. treasury.

Say what you want about the SFO’s BAE enforcement action, but at least a portion of that money went to the alleged “victims” of the wrongful conduct prosecuted – the people of Tanzania. (See here).

The suggestion that one of the reasons for the rise in FCPA enforcement is because it is a lucrative cash cow for the government would seem not to be dispelled by comments made this week in an American Lawyer article “Here Comes the Payoff Police” (here) by a former high-ranking DOJ FCPA official. The comment that caught my attention is this:

“The government sees a profitable program, and it’s going to ride that horse until it can’t ride it anymore.”

*****

Here are some other tidbits that caught my eye this week.

More Pre-Enforcement Action News

It used to be that FCPA enforcement actions made the news. Now, it’s pre-enforcement action. Alcatel-Lucent (here) stay tuned it’s coming. Technip (here) stay tuned it’s coming. Panalpina (here) stay tuned it’s coming.

Add to the list Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. See here for the Main Justice piece.

FCPA Unit in S.F.

As detailed here and elsewhere, the SEC’s San Francisco branch office has a new unit devoted exclusively to the FCPA. “The fact that we have a significant presence of companies in Silicon Valley who do business internationally, specifically in Asia, makes us well-suited for addressing these kinds of issues,” said Tracy L. Davis, the assistant regional director in charge of the new San Francisco unit. “That’s one of the reasons why San Francisco is a particularly good location for an FCPA unit.”

A good weekend to all.

The FCPA and Reputational Damage

Nearly every FCPA presentation one sees or hears seems to talk about collateral sanctions which flow from an FCPA enforcement action, including the reputational harm companies “suffer” when disclosing FCPA issues or settling FCPA enforcement actions.

But is it true?

Do companies that disclose FCPA issues or settle FCPA enforcement actions actually suffer any reputational damage?

For companies, reputation is traditionally measured by stock price performance and business revenue.

Do companies that disclose FCPA issues or settle FCPA enforcement actions have a decrease in stock price or lose business?

How does one even measure such an issue?

Stock price movement upon the market first learning of a potential FCPA issue? Stock price movement upon settlement of an FCPA enforcement action? Something in between? Business revenue during the period of uncertainty (i.e. from disclosure to settlement)? Business revenue in the year after settlement of an FCPA enforcement action?

Whatever the metric, the answer to whether companies suffer reputational damage upon disclosing an FCPA issue or settling an FCPA enforcement action seems to be inconclusive.

That was the conclusion of a January 2009 study by Nera Economic Consulting (see here). Among other things, the study concluded that “the extent of the fallout from the relatively recent trend of increased FCPA enforcement actions remains uncertain.” For some companies “there was no statistically significant price reaction” yet for other companies there was a “negative price reaction.”

The below examples also seem to support the inconclusive answer.

Last month, (see here) Hewlett-Packard Co.’s (HP) Moscow offices were raided in connection with an investigation focusing on whether company executives made millions in payments to the prosecutor general of the Russian Federation to secure contracts. It was front page news in several publications, including the Wall Street Journal. This week HP (see here) disclosed second quarter results (the same quarter the issue surfaced). The results … stellar. “Second quarter net revenue of $30.8 billion, up 13%, or $3.5 billion, from a year earlier.” HP’s Chairman and CEO said “HP had an exceptional quarter with strong performance across every region,” – “we’ve built the best portfolio in the industry, and our customers are responding. We’re winning in the marketplace, investing for the future and confident in the enormous opportunity that lies ahead.” What about the company’s performance in Russia? Even better. The HP release notes “revenue from outside of the United States in the second quarter accounted for 66% of total HP revenue, with revenue in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) increasing 25% while accounting for 10% of total HP revenue.”

Front page press coverage of HP’s potential FCPA issues seems to have had no affect on the company’s reputation when viewed through the prism of financial performance.

What about Siemens?

In the 365 days after the Siemens enforcement action, Siemens outperformed its competitors and received mounds of new business from the U.S. government, including taxpayer funds from the $787 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in February 2009 (see here). This despite the fact (according to DOJ statements) that Siemens engaged in a pattern of bribery “unprecedented in scale and geographic scope” and for much of Siemens operations around the world “bribery was nothing less than standard operating procedure.” Siemens surely paid a hefty fine/penalty amount, but did its reputation suffer? It would appear not.

What about BAE?

When the BAE “FCPA-like” enforcement action was announced, the company’s stock rose. Since the February 2010 enforcement action, the company has been inking contracts with the U.S. and U.K. governments (the prosecuting governments) left and right. This week it was a $10.7 million contract with the U.S. Army (see here). Last week it was a $5.5 million contract and a $10 million contract with U.S. government agencies (see here and here). Throw in a recent £111 million contract from the UK’s Ministry of Defence (see here) and one would be justified in concluding that it matters very little if a company is caught engaging in bribery and corruption.

However, just when one is set to reach such a conclusion, along comes a company like Avon. Last month, the company shares dropped 8% upon news that its previously disclosed FCPA issues appear to have escalated. (see here, here and here). It sure looks like Avon’s reputation (viewed through the prism of its stock price) has suffered because of the FCPA escalation.

*****

Somewhat “on topic” is the recent news that Daimler AG, after a 17 year listing on the New York Stock Exchange, has decided to delist. Purely coincidence that this delisting is occuring approximately one month after Daimler resolved its FCPA case?

Daimler agreed to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement for conspiring to violate the FCPA’s books and records provisions and knowingly falsifying books, records and accounts, provisions which only apply to “issuers”.

(The DOJ’s allegations as to Daimler also allege use of U.S. bank accounts and U.S. entities – an independent basis by which a foreign company like Daimler can become subject to the FCPA). For more on the Daimler enforcement action (see here and here).

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