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White House Ramps Up Corruption Fight Worldwide

A man shouts slogans against corruption during a protest outside Madrid.
A man shouts slogans against corruption during a protest outside Madrid.

The White House has rolled out its “Global Anti-Corruption Agenda,” a multi-faceted approach to addressing illicit activities around the globe.

The White House issued a statement in late September that reflects President Barack Obama’s global initiative to fight and reduce corruption both domestically and among nations doing business with the United States.

“The United States views corruption as a growing threat to the national security of our country and allies around the world,” the statement said.

The administration’s centerpiece is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [FCPA], in force since 1977. The White House says that in the past five years, the FCPA has produced more than 50 convictions of corporations worldwide, along with the convictions of a similar number of CEOs and other high level corporate officials. The White House says the FCPA has also caused the imposition of fines of some $3 billion.

“Part of the reason for the [U.S.] government’s increased crackdown on FCPA violators may have something to do with the state of affairs overseas,” said Jennifer Dowell Armstrong, an attorney with the firm McDonald Hopkins. “China faces extremely grave corruption issues, as do many other nations in both the developed and developing world, including Western European countries. Rather than sitting on the sidelines, the U.S. government is addressing corruption by teaming up with foreign governments to combat the threat.”

Other steps the Obama administration says it is taking includes addressing the use of shell corporations to hide and move the proceeds of corruption. Another is a call on Congress to tighten laws on money laundering, especially concerning funds derived from illicit activities abroad. Included as well is an initiative to make asset recovery in corruption cases more robust.

While the administration’s Global Anti-Corruption Agenda has drawn praise, some analysts point out that its main enforcement vehicle, the FCPA, is not being used to its full abilities.

“The U.S. government largely enforces the FCPA through non-prosecution agreements, deferred prosecution agreements, and other vehicles (such as, with increasing frequency, SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] administrative settlements) not subjected to any meaningful scrutiny” wrote Mike Koehler in, which monitors activities associated with the White House anti-corruption efforts.

“The White House is emphasizing the quantity of FCPA enforcement over the quality of FCPA enforcement,” Koehler wrote. “However, in a legal system based on the rule of law, quality of enforcement [the size and the scope of cases] should take priority over quantity [number of cases pursued].”

The Global Anti-Corruption Agenda integrates foreign policy as a malfeasance-fighting tool. Under the section “Working with other countries to promote anti-corruption, transparency, and open government,” the administration says the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are devoting $1 billion yearly promoting anti-corruption and other good governance programs in other nations.

The White House Fact Sheet states that Washington “will hold responsible governments that tolerate or commit corrupt practices in contravention of international norms, including by adjusting our bilateral relations, and advising our businesses and investors accordingly.”

Matthew Stephenson, who writes for, writes that if this is put into practice, it would be a departure from the past.

“Though the United States routinely condemns corruption,” he wrote, “I’m not aware of any cases in which another country’s failure to adhere to anticorruption norms has had broader collateral consequences for U.S. foreign policy toward that country.”

The White House says the administration will draw up a National Action Plan to promote and provide incentives to domestic and overseas businesses to be transparent and proactively fight illicit conduct. The White House says its plan will closely follow both anti-corruption principles followed by the United Nations.

“Ultimately, I imagine that the reason the White House…included the NAP as part of the overall anti-corruption agenda,” said James Schmitt, Managing Director of Washington-based Human Analytics, “is that U.S. business compliance with established business and human rights normative standards produces increased transparency and ‘buy-in’ from the local communities impacted by the firm's operations and activities.” Schmitt adds “This, in turn, minimizes the environmental and operating conditions conducive to corruption.”

Accountability and compliance groups are calling on President Obama to use two international summits - Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the Group of 20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia – this month to press world leaders to adopt best anti-corruption practices in both government and private commercial activities.

Frank Vogl, one of the co-founders of the good governance group Transparency International, calls for governments to take legislative and other actions to enforce proper official and commercial behavior.

“The forces of corruption in many countries,” Vogl wrote in The Huffington Post, “be they organized crime, violent gangs, or government officials, feel increasingly threatened as the anti-corruption warriors build powerful public support and find mid-level officials – and sometimes even senior ones – willing to stand up and join the cause.”

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    Jeffrey Young

    Jeffrey Young is a Senior Analyst in VOA’s Global English TV.  He has spent years covering global strategic issues, corruption, the Middle East, and Africa. During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include video journalism and the “Focus” news analysis unit. He also does journalist training overseas for VOA.