DoJ chief signals move to empower compliance officers

DOJ considering requiring both the CEO and the CCO to certify that their company’s compliance program is reasonably designed and implemented.

“Chief compliance officers and their functions should have true independence, authority, and stature within the company.”

That was the message from Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. to students on NYU Law’s Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement.

And he revealed that, to empower chief compliance officers (CCOs) further, his team at the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is considering requiring both the CEO and the CCO to certify that their company’s compliance program is reasonably designed and implemented to detect and prevent violations of the law and is working effectively.

The DOJ is also considering requiring the CEO and the CCO to certify that all compliance reports submitted during the term of a resolution (including guilty pleas, deferred prosecution agreements, and non-prosecution agreements) are true, accurate, and complete when organizations must provide annual reports on the state of their compliance programs.

“By taking this step, we are ensuring that chief compliance officers receive all relevant compliance-related information and can voice any concerns they may have prior to certification,” Polite said.

“This is the type of resource that compliance officials, including myself, have wanted for some time, because it makes it clear that you should and must have appropriate stature in corporate decision-making. It is intended to empower our compliance professionals to have the data, access, and voice within the organization to ensure that your company has an ethical and compliance focused environment.”

The challenges of being a CCO

Polite told his audience that he had been a prosecutor, defense attorney, and CCO during his career, and his CCO role had been the most challenging. “I know the resource challenges. The challenges you have accessing data. The relationship challenges. The siloing of your function,” he said. “You are called upon to be a resource for information, an enforcer of law and policy, and somehow the primary architect of your company’s ethical culture. I have seen first-hand how a strong compliance program can ward off misconduct and empower ethical employees.

“Having served in these three positions, I know that your compliance role is perhaps the most impactful, because you have a direct role in utilizing the most effective tool in addressing crime – you are trying to prevent it in the first place.”