Since its inception in 2007, the compliance helpline in the Office of Compliance and Ethics has served as a simple, confidential and largely underutilized reporting service that offers students and faculty an alternative channel to bring compliance-related concerns to light.
As parts of Georgetown’s Institutional Compliance and Ethics Program, the 24/7, multilingual telephone hotline and the online report service have fielded over 90 reports over the past eight years concerning compliance in a variety of university issues, including human resources, athletics, safety and research.
Associate Vice President for Compliance and Ethics Jim Ward said that the helpline provides guidance for students or faculty who would like to report compliance or ethical violations.
“The compliance helpline is confidential and anonymous if you want to address problems or concerns, if someone believes that there’s a violation of the law or policy being violated,” Ward said. “If someone feels uncomfortable asking a question through regular channels at the university, they can do so through the compliance helpline.”
Over the past few years, students have begun to use the service more frequently, increasing from 11 reports in 2009 to 31 in 2014.
While the service is available to all university and nonuniversity members, it is primarily used by faculty and staff to report human resources concerns. Over 80 percent of the reports have come from university employees.
Ward said that this positive trend is likely due to growing student awareness about the service and not necessarily an increase in the overall number of incidents.
“When we first established the helpline, not many people knew about it, so I see the upward trend as indicative of a greater saturation of awareness,” Ward said. “Generally, people report that they feel comfortable reporting through the helpline.”
The service allows members of the community to file confidential reports, which can be used in situations in which a superior is implicated or a department only has a few employees.
The main online server and reception services for the compliance helpline are operated by EthicsPoint, a third-party organization. Reports are filed and redistributed within the hour to the OCE, which ensures that the university abides by federal laws, regulations and policies.
Ward said that one of the most important functions of EthicsPoint is ensuring that the reports remain private.
“The helpline exists on an external server that doesn’t belong to Georgetown University to give another level of confidentiality and anonymity if you were worried that our university servers could reverse-engineer your report,” Ward said.
According to Ward, the university has also instituted a whistleblower policy to afford further protection to those who use the helpline system in good faith.
“You’re protected by the whistleblower policy, which says that your report is a service to the university and it is to its benefit to know that this problem exists,” Ward said. “If you are not trying to be vindictive or abusive of the system … then [reporters] are protected from retaliation.”
Once the report is filed, the OCE reaches out to the department in question for a more thorough investigation of the claim.
“Once we receive the report … we’ll triage it,” Ward said. “We determine what the report is alleging, what component of the university is involved, how serious is the allegation and [if] it immediately need to be addressed.”
Ward said that in the majority of cases, the office in question is already aware of the issue and has begun to address it.
Director of Affirmative Action Programs in the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action Michael Smith is responsible for compliance helpline reports specific to human resources, sexual misconduct and discrimination.
Smith said that the IDEAA works closely with the OCE to keep the confidentiality of the reports made through the helpline.
“Jim Ward assigns those reports to the IDEAA and depending on the details of the report … we might get back to [OCE] to offer individuals confidential resources within the university,” Smith said. “Some students or faculty may identify themselves and we will reach out to the individual to see how we can support you and describe our IDEAA process.”
Ward said that the OCE receives two times as many direct reports by email, office visit or phone call than through the helpline.
“We attribute this to the maturity of our program and to the fact that Georgetown employees are generally more familiar with the Compliance and Ethics Program and feel more comfortable reaching out to us,” Ward said.
While the OCE cannot guarantee that reporters will be notified of the full effects of their reports, they can receive progress reports from the online system using a designated report number and passcode.
“What we will guarantee is that we take your complaint seriously, we will investigate with due diligence and we will make sure that it’s resolved within accordance with university policies,” Ward said.
Gina Kim (SFS ’18) said that although the helpline is a useful resource, it will remain underutilized if the lack of marketing persists.
“I think the hotline will be very useful, particularly for international students, because it is multilingual,” Kim said. “But considering I had no idea what it was, and I like to consider myself at least somewhat aware of resources on campus, that might be a problem.”