Audit of the management of the risks of conflicts of interest in the national administration

Jacques-Bertrand de Reboul, Pascale Schmitt, members of IGAS

Managing the risk of conflicts of interest is an issue for the State in terms of image, public action probity, confidence of citizens in their administration, and the coverage of legal and financial risks for bodies and public agents. This risk management occurs in a context of recurrent and legitimate reviews of the regularity and effectiveness of decisions, in particular through the auditing duties of Parliament, the Court of Auditors or dedicated independent Authorities. This context is also characterized by increasing recourse to legal intervention and the questioning of public action in the public sphere, sometimes without any basis yet with widespread sharing via social media.
While all State departments must face this issue, risk management is particularly acute in social ministries due to the level of exposure of their mandates. The process is based on two distinct legal frameworks that can merge and sometimes prove counterproductive due to their complexity and the lack of understanding they create among agents and managers :

  • the first, set up in 2011 in the health sector in the wake of the Mediator scandal, aims to guarantee compliance with strict, transparent ethical protection measures under a broad scope, making it possible to cover the risk linked to the numerous interventions of external experts in the preparation of public decision-making. It also provides guarantees to promote the development of health democracy ;
  • the second is the common framework of ethics applicable to all public servants, supported in particular by 1983 legislative texts, including the “Le Pors” law, recently consolidated and codified by the texts of 2016 and 2021 and the French General Code of Public Service (CGFP), which came into force in March 2022.

This dual legal framework can cause confusion. In fact, some public agents even feel that they have fulfilled their obligations while the protection measures are still incomplete. There is therefore a need for education and communication measures based on common and clear reference frameworks for all the stakeholders in the ministries responsible for social affairs. The purpose is to give meaning to risk management measures and the associated obligations by positioning them in a broader approach, thus giving visibility to the issues at play, the objectives pursued and the underlying risks.
The social ministries have ensured that these risks are covered and that they remain vigilant on these issues, in particular by conducting several audits since 2012 and by including this topic in numerous IGAS evaluation, inspection or audit reports. However, the very specific context of the coronavirus pandemic over the last two years, coupled with major reorganizations of key administrations, have led the General Secretariat and its departments, and chiefly the Department of Legal Affairs (DAJ), to reexamine the robustness of the internal audit measures in place. The audit was conducted in this context with the objective of contributing to the protection of the personnel movements expected from 2022 resulting from the replacement of the executive board.
While the audit initially focused on compliance with reporting obligations (declarations of interest, declarations of assets and liabilities), which constitutes the first step in protecting the wider situation, this report takes a global approach to managing the risk of conflicts of interest, in particular by examining the procedures for joining departments (recruitment), protecting the dealings of public services, and then leaving ministries. The mission examined the general governance of this risk management, conducted by the General Secretariat and its support directorates, and then the practices of central administration departments in protecting their activities.
Following completion of its work, the mission cannot confirm that the current system provides ministers with sufficient coverage in terms of managing the risks of conflicts of interest. However, the reference framework foundation is in place, even if it is no longer up-to-date, and sometimes forgotten in departments that have had to deal with other priorities. In addition, some directorates are already implementing relevant measures and tools, even if in isolation and not always in a systematic way. These good practices can be consolidated, promoted and even standardized to achieve reasonable protection.
In fact, it appears possible to consolidate and protect the practices of the ministry administrations responsible for social affairs within a tight timeframe, by building on what has been achieved and by paying attention to the progress points highlighted by the audit mission’s report :

  • In order to achieve the first objective of ensuring compliance with reporting obligations during recruitment, the Human Resources Directorate (DRH), the Senior and Executive Management Delegation (DESD) and the employment directorates must stabilize the recruitment processes for functional roles, and finalize the internal audit points for preventing the risk of conflicts of interest at each stage. This work was started during the audit mission but it still needs to be finalized with the employment directorates before it is completed. It will then be possible to ensure that all mandatory reporting has been submitted, that it has been examined on its merits by the line manager, and that it is stored in a known and accessible place with a follow-up and compliance check. The general secretariat can then perform its supervisory role.
  • In order to achieve a more ambitious objective, but one that the audit mission believes is necessary, of improving the general protection against the risks of conflicts of interest within central administrations, the General Secretariat and the DAJ must quickly prepare to fully carry out their supervisory and management duties. In this respect, there are three key work areas :
    • Updating and adapting the ministerial reference framework to ensure that up-to-date, simple, specific (i.e. illustrated by examples of professional situations encountered by public agents) and operational resources are available, so that they can be immediately used by the human resources offices to perform their information and checking role ;
    • Reactivating and reviving the network of compliance officers within the directorates, ensuring that they are well coordinated with the local managers of the Department of Human Resources and General Affairs (BRHAG), in order to ensure the sharing and awareness of the reference framework, boosting the acculturation of management and public agents and enabling the employment directorates to adopt strategic measures in this area ;
    • Working with the directorates to identify their risk areas and particularly sensitive functions, in order to integrate probity risks into the ministerial mapping to lay the foundations for an approach that is both global, meaningful and reflects reality, and based on the specific risks of each central administration directorate.
  • In the long term, this general protection could go beyond preventing conflicts of interest to cover the risk of a probity breach.
    To ensure measures are implemented effectively and consistently to prevent and manage the risks of conflicts of interest, the employment directorates should, with the support of the General Secretariat, the DAJ and the DRH, and on the basis of the prior identification of risk areas with them, adopt their own objectives and framework elements. Sometimes it is simply a question of updating or finalizing the existing system. Ideally, these elements should be based on this initial risk mapping work and the development of a specific and progressive action plan.
    This requires increasing the skills and responsibilities of the compliance officers. Directorates will then be able to ensure the implementation and traceability of measures to prevent and deal with conflicts of interest :
    • For all recruitment, ensuring that the people doing the recruiting have the training, the necessary vigilance and the analytical guidance to ensure that the relevant measures are put in place (such as negotiating future discounts, for example) ;
    • During the dealings of public services, by reviewing declarations of interest when appropriate, particularly in the event of changes in assignments, ensuring that declarations of interest are updated, ensuring traceability of discounts, etc. ;
    • At the end of the financial year, for those leaving to work in the private sector, on the basis of an established leaving process shared with the DRH, making sure to implement a review of the compatibility of new functions with those previously held that is known and transparent to those involved.


BRHAG : Bureau des ressources humaines et des affaires générales (Department of Human Resources and General Affairs)
DAJ : Direction des affaires juridiques (Legal Affairs Directorate)
DESD : Délégation à l’encadrement supérieur et dirigeant (Senior and Executive Management Delegation)
DRH : Direction des ressources humaines (Human Resources Directorate)
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