White House Calls for Federal Agencies to Root Out Corruption

The move designates corruption a national security issue and directs U.S. government agencies to begin internal reviews.

President Joe Biden walks on the Ellipse near the White House to board Marine One for a Wednesday trip to Delaware. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Angling to shut down corruption in the federal government, President Joe Biden directed federal agencies Thursday to launch internal reviews and report back to him in 200 days.

The memorandum Biden released Thursday is short on details, but highlights bolstering criminal and civil enforcement under the Global Magnitsky Act as a chief priority, along with enforcement of the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

Since its launch in 2010, the initiative has clawed back $150 million in assets and has stopped over $3.2 billion in court from flowing to foreign parties. Run by a slew of prosecutors, the program is charged specifically with stopping money laundering and recovering assets lost to corruption.

Kleptocracy stems from the Greek word kleptein, meaning to steal; and kratia, meaning a government ruled by thieves. As for the Magnitsky Act, it empowers the president to impose sanctions or deny entry to the U.S. by any foreign persons engaging in human rights abuses or corruption.

By taking a national-security approach, the White House said it efforts to root out corruption are doubly effective. The reviews agencies will now undertake should study how department resources are used to combat corruption, and the findings due seven months from now must include steps on how the agency will chart a more ethical path forward.

“Strengthening the resilience of rights-respecting democracies is one of the defining challenges of our era,” the memo from Biden states. “Corruption eats away at the foundations of democratic societies. It makes government less effective, wastes public resources, and exacerbates inequalities in access to services, making it harder for families to provide for their loved ones. Corruption attacks the foundations of democratic institutions, drives and intensifies extremism, and makes it easier for authoritarian regimes to corrode democratic governance.”

With Biden embarking on his first international trip next week to participate in the Group of Seven Summit and NATO’s annual summit, the memo makes a pointed arrival. It directs federal agencies to unite with “like-minded international partners” at the United Nations and members of the G7, which besides the U.S., includes Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany and Japan.  The G7 Summit kicks off June 10 in Cornwall, England. The NATO Summit, short for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is held in Brussels on June 14.

The memorandum is in line with anticorruption measures already in place following passage of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. In that bill, the Treasury Department was instructed to establish a “beneficial ownership registry” that bans companies from hiding their earnings in anonymous shell companies.

 “Fighting corruption is not just good governance. It is self-defense. It is patriotism, and it’s essential to the preservation of our democracy and our future,” Biden said.

Vice President Kamala Harris is getting ready for a trip to Latin America next week. It is expected that a key plank of her visit will feature discussion of anti-corruption efforts and U.S. assistance to combat it. The president has proposed $861 million in the 2022 budget for aid to Central America — an amount it hopes will curb corruption and reduce poverty and violence, which are considered integral catalysts to immigration over America’s southern border.  

The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has been allotted roughly $50 million for new anti-corruption initiatives in 2022 but, like all other budgetary items, it will be left to lawmakers in the week ahead to approve. In 200 days, after agencies have supplied their reports and recommendation, the ball will be back in the White House’s court.

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