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What If?

What if, instead of issuing guidance in 2012, the DOJ would have issued guidance in 1988 after Congress, as part of the FCPA’s 1988 amendments, encouraged the DOJ to issue such guidance?

For instance, a relevant House Report stated as follows.  “In order to enhance compliance with the provisions of the FCPA [the FCPA amendment] establishes a procedure for the [DOJ] to issue guidance describing examples of activities that would or would not conform with the [DOJ’s] present enforcement policy regarding FCPA violations.”

The Sixth Circuit noted that the 1998 amendments “clearly evince[d] a preference for compliance in lieu of prosecution; however, in response to Congress’s suggestion, the DOJ determined in 1990 that “no guidelines are necessary.”  (See here and here for prior posts).

What if, instead of issuing guidance in 2012, the enforcement agencies would have issued guidance in 2002 after the OECD, in its Phase 2 Report of the U.S., encouraged the U.S. to issue such guidance?

In pertinent part, the OECD Report stated as follows.  “Despite the abundance of articles and commentaries on [the FCPA], there is only limited amount of authoritative or official guidance available on compliance with the twenty five-year statute.  […]  Much of the authority or guidance regarding the Act comes from speeches from DOJ and SEC officials, DOJ opinions, DOJ and SEC complaints, settlements that have been filed, and informal discussions of issues between companies’ counsel and the DOJ or the SEC.  […]  The status of these various sources of information is however not always clear:  there could be merit in regrouping and consolidating them in a single guidance document.”

The OECD Phase 2 Report concluded on this issue as follows.  “In the view of the lead examiners, the time has come to explore the need for further forms of guidance, mainly to assist new players […] on the international scene, and to provide a valuable risk management tool to guide companies through some of the pitfalls which might arise in structuring international transactions involving potential exposures.”

What if, instead of issuing FCPA guidance in 2012, the enforcement agencies would have issued guidance in 2010 after the OECD, this time in its October 2010 Phase 3 Report of the U.S., stated as follows.  “The evaluators recommend that the United States consider consolidating and summarizing [all relevant sources of FCPA information] to ensure easy accessibility, especially for [companies] which face limited resources.”

Despite Congress suggesting FCPA guidance in 1988, and repeated OECD recommendations for guidance in 2002 and 2010, the DOJ refused to issue guidance.

For instance, in the aftermath of a November 30, 2010 Senate FCPA hearing, Senator Amy Klobuchar asked the DOJ the following post-hearing question.  “Do you believe companies could comply with more certainty with the FCPA if they were provided with more generally-applicable guidance from the Department in regards to situations covered by the FCPA that are not clear cut or fall into ‘gray’ area.”   The DOJ response was that it “believes it provides clear guidance with respect to FCPA enforcement through a variety of means” and it then listed the same general categories of information the OECD identified in 2002 as being deficient. (See here).

Although the enforcement agencies state in the Guidance that its issuance was “in part, a response to [the OECD’s] Phase 3 recommendations” the DOJ’s above response after the OECD Phase 3 recommendations calls into question the genuineness of this motivation.

Another likely motive for issuing the Guidance was the desire of the enforcement agencies to forestall introduction of an actual FCPA reform bill.

As to this issue, the following background is relevant.  After the November 2010 Senate FCPA hearing, FCPA reform gained steam heading into a June 2011 House hearing.  The House hearing evidenced bi-partisan support for certain aspects of FCPA reform and at the conclusion of the hearing Chair James Sensenbrenner stated that “we will be drafting [an FCPA reform] bill.  (See here).  Against this backdrop, in November 2011, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer announced that in 2012 the DOJ intended to issue FCPA guidance.  (See here).

Those on Capitol Hill who were inclined to introduce an FCPA reform bill said that they would await DOJ’s FCPA guidance before introducing such a bill.  (See here).   That the Guidance was issued very soon after the November presidential election, during a lame duck Congress, would seem to advance, in addition to the above information, the notion that issuance and the timing of the Guidance was in part political.

Regardless of the enforcement agencies’ motivations in issuing the Guidance when they did, it is telling that it took over a year – from the time of Breuer’s announcement –  to issue the Guidance.  After all, both the DOJ and SEC have specific FCPA units and both enforcement agencies have indicated, in various ways and in various settings, that the FCPA is a clear and unambiguous statute.

The point is this.

While the Guidance is a useful resource guide as it collects in one document the positions and policies of the enforcement agencies, and for this the agencies deserve credit and a pat on the back, the pat on the back could have and should have occurred a long time ago.

Those who closely follow the FCPA are left to wonder what if the Guidance was issued two years, ten years, or twenty-four years ago?

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