The Alchemist Of Comedy And Utility Industry Compliance

by Thomas Fox

Harold Ramis as Dr. SpenglerHarold Ramis died on Monday. For a generation of comedians and fans of comedy he was one of the driving lights of that genre. He was one of the screenwriters of Animal House and wrote the screenplays for both of the Ghostbuster movies, in addition to starring in them. His New York Times (NYT) obituary called him the “Alchemist of Comedy” and quoted from Paul Weingarten, who wrote, in The Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1983, “More than anyone else, “Harold Ramis has shaped this generation’s ideas of what is funny.”” So thanks Harold Ramis for Blutto, Otter, Flounder, D-Day, Dr. Spengler and all the rest.

I am currently attending the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics (SCCE), 2014 Utilities & Energy Conference. As usual, it is an excellent event for the compliance practitioner. One of the things that I find not only intriguing but also extremely useful about this conference is the pairing of compliance practitioners from the fields of energy and utility. I did not attend the utility focused sessions for the first couple of years but now prefer those sessions because they focus so much on the process of compliance. While the actual compliance issues are not anti-bribery or anti-corruption, the process-oriented approach utilized in the utility energy can be a great set of lessons for the energy industry compliance practitioner to consider when looking at an energy company compliance regime.

On Monday there was a presentation by David Douglass, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Compliance at Kansas City Power & Light Company. Initially, Douglass presented several different compliance models, which the anti-corruption compliance practitioner can use to benchmark or evaluate your company’s compliance program. The first one Douglass termed the Compliance Maturity Model – Compliance at Every Level. It included:

  • Step 1 – Reacting only and engaging in panic. The elements of this level of maturity include the admonition to “Get it done”. Typically under this step compliance is operating in isolation and can only marshal resources as necessary and where ever they might be found.
  • Step 2 – Anticipating and acceptance of compliance. This increased maturity can help to bring about some efficiency, usually through the accepted use of automation. This allows a compliance practitioner to see connections between multiple programs and take steps to plan future approaches to ongoing and ad hoc compliance challenges as they might arise.
  • Step 3 – Collaborating. Under this step, compliance moves to being seen as a collaborative partner with the business units. This allows the identification of risks, the assessment of the company’s exposure to those risks and to prioritizing actions to meet those assessed risk. Finally, the collaboration step can allow for the re-use of technological components for multiple purposes, thus reinforcing great cost savings and value.
  • Step 4 – Orchestrating through and with the rest of the company. Under this ultimate step in the model, compliance works to help set enterprise wide objectives to help to coordinate enterprise wide risk analysis and response. The corporate wide visibility to risk analysis, management and remediation as well as compliance performance.

In addition to the above Compliance Maturity Model, Dougalss discussed two of the programs were set out by federal utility regulators. The first was the FERC’s Effective Compliance Program, which has the following seven standards:

  1.  Internal standards and procedures to prevent and detect violations;
  2. High-level management knowledge and oversight of internal compliance programs;
  3. Reasonable (due diligence) efforts to screen out “poor performers”;
  4. Reasonable internal communications and training efforts;
  5. Reasonable steps to evaluate program effectiveness, including confidential reporting options for employees;
  6. Creating and enforcing compliance incentives and noncompliance sanctions;
  7. After detection of a violation, companies shall take reasonable, responsive steps.

He then cited to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC’s) four hallmarks of effective compliance programs, which included the following:

1.    Senior management / leadership

  • Compliance Program is established in the company.
  • Compliance Program is formally documented and widely disseminated throughout the organization.
  • The Compliance Program is supervised by a high ranking company representative.
  • The head of the compliance function has access to President / CEO and Board.
  • The Compliance Program is designed and managed with independence.
  • There are sufficient resources dedicated to implement Compliance Program.
  • The Compliance Program has the full support of all company leadership

2.    Preventive measures are in place

  • A sufficient frequency of review of compliance program occurs.
  • There is sufficient frequency of training of employees on compliance program.
  • There is sufficiency of subject matter training of employees on compliance program.

3.    Prompt detection, cessation, and self-reporting

  • There is a sustainable process to internally assess compliance with regulations.
  • There is a sufficient response to identification of wrong-doing or misconduct.

4.    Effective remediation

  • There are effective internal controls and procedures present to prevent recurrence of misconduct.

Douglass also discussed the ‘3-lines of defense concept” for a best practices compliance program. Under this concept a properly constructed compliance program has three lines of defense to prevent a compliance incident. These three lines of defense are identified as (1) the Risk Content Owners line of defense; (2) the Risk Process Owners line of defense; and (3) the Risk Content and Content Monitoring Owners line of defense.

 I.                Risk Content Owners

This first line of defense is the business owner(s) who are on the front lines for any company. Their roles include management of day-to-day business risks and to recommend actions to manage and treat that risk. This group also is tasked with complying with the company’s risk management process. Where appropriate, this group will implement risk management processes where applicable and this group will execute risk assessments and identify emerging risk.

 II.             Risk Process Owners

This second line of defense is typically the company legal and compliance departments. Not only are these the standard setters in an organization but they may also be charged with certain monitoring tasks. This group should establish policy and process for risk management. This group is the strategic link for a company in terms of risk. It should provide guidance and coordination among constituencies. It should identify enterprise trends, synergies, and opportunities for change. This group should also initiate change, integration and operationalization of new compliance best practices. Typically this group is the liaison between the third and first lines of defense. Lastly, this group will oversee certain risk areas and in terms of certain enterprise objectives such as compliance with regulations such as Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), Export Control, etc.

III.           Risk Content and Monitoring Owners

This third, and final, line of defense is generally thought of as the Assurance Providers and consists of senior management, Internal Audit and up to the Board of Directors. Its roles include either working with or through senior management and/or the Board of Directors. This line of defense is tasked to rationalize and systematize risk assessment and governance reporting so that it is not only transparent but useful and stored in a manner that can be retrieved if a regulator comes calling. It will provide oversight on risk management content/processes, followed by the second line of defense. Finally, it will provide assurance that risk management processes are adequate and appropriate.

This tripartite model is an excellent way for a company to not only think through how to design an overall structure but as an outline to assess how well it may be doing in any one specific compliance area such as anti-corruption compliance under the FCPA. The first line of defense should be driven down to the Business Unit level. This will allow, indeed require, the Business Unit to buy into the overall compliance program. The legal and compliance departments are the key bridge that writes and leads implementation of the overall compliance program through training but also assesses whether the compliance program is effective and remains robust. The role of senior management is to provide overall leadership and deployment of resources throughout this entire process.

I have found that the anti-corruption compliance, or indeed the anti-money laundering (AML) or export-control practitioner can learn quite a bit from their peers in the utility industry. While they may not rise to the level of “Alchemist of Comedy”, as did Harold Ramis, you might want to listen to what they have to say.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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Thomas Fox

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