University of Notre Dame
In today’s regulatory environment, a corporation engaged in wrongdoing can be sure of one thing: regulators will point to an ineffective compliance program as a key cause of institutional misconduct. The explosion in the importance of compliance is unsurprising given the emphasis that governmental actors — from the Department of Justice, to the Securities and Exchange Commission, to even the Commerce Department — place on the need for institutions to adopt “effective compliance programs.” The governmental actors that demand effective compliance programs, however, have narrow scopes of authority. DOJ Fraud handles violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, while the SEC adjudicates claims of misconduct under the securities laws, and the Federal Trade Commission deals with concerns regarding anticompetitive behavior. This segmentation of enforcement authority has created an information and coordination problem amongst regulators, resulting in an enforcement regime where institutional misconduct is adjudicated in a piecemeal fashion. Enforcement actions focus on compliance with a particular set of laws instead of on whether the corporate wrongdoing is a result of a systematic compliance failure that requires a comprehensive, firm-wide, compliance overhaul. As a result, the government’s goal of incentivizing companies to implement “effective ethics and compliance programs” appears at odds with its current enforcement approach.