Hochul’s Vow to Boost Ethics and Sexual Harassment Training Falls Flat

ALBANY, N.Y. — On her first day as governor of New York, Kathy Hochul vowed to overhaul policies on ethics and sexual harassment in the government workplace.

The promise was timely: Her predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo, had just resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, and Ms. Hochul sought to make clear her intent to clean house.

She said she would strengthen ethics and sexual harassment training, requiring state workers to participate in live classes and seminars. No longer would state employees “click their way through a class,” Ms. Hochul said.

Nearly a year and a half later, there is still no universal live training in either subject for the state’s work force.

State officials in charge of implementing the new ethics training mandate say they lack the money and infrastructure to offer live classes that the law now says must be provided to roughly 300,000 people, about 10 times the number of state workers who previously received the training, according to records and interviews.

“We simply don’t have the bodies,” Sanford Berland, the director of the state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government, told the panel last month. “We don’t have the resources to do that kind of training.”

The failure to strengthen the ethics and sexual harassment training falls in line with a pattern of Ms. Hochul’s having struggled to bring about a “dramatic change in culture” in Albany, a place where political dysfunction has thrived for decades.

But in her 17 months as governor, Ms. Hochul may have contributed to the dysfunction. Although she vowed to usher in a “new era of transparency” and ethical governing, she still negotiated a back-room deal to build a football stadium for the Buffalo Bills and watched her first lieutenant governor resign after being indicted on federal corruption charges. (Some of the charges were later dismissed.)

And earlier this month, when Ms. Hochul laid out her priorities in her second State of the State address as governor, the word “ethics” appeared nowhere in her prepared speech or 276-page policy book outlining her agenda. The one mention of combating sexual harassment is confined to a list of past accomplishments.

“Rooting out a centuries-old culture of sexism and corruption is not an overnight task, and using arbitrary benchmarks for one of the many good government initiatives undertaken by this governor to evaluate a commitment to culture shift is missing the forest for the trees,” said the governor’s spokeswoman, Hazel Crampton-Hays. “We remain committed to getting real change done and done right because our employees and the New Yorkers we serve deserve nothing less.”

Ms. Crampton-Hays said the governor was “committed to providing any support necessary” to beef up the ethics training.

To meet that challenge — specifically implementing the live ethics classes — will require more funding from the State Legislature, but some state agency officials have already been told that additional resources are unlikely, according to emails that an ethics commission official sent to several state lawmakers, including Assembly members Pat Fahy and John T. McDonald III.

“Some agencies, notably the M.T.A. (the agency with the largest number of state employees by far) have already begun requesting additional funding to try to meet the herculean challenges this new law represents, but their training department has already been informed that no additional funding is available,” the official wrote in one of the emails that was reviewed by The New York Times.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, David Steckel, did not respond to questions about conversations the agency may have had with leaders in Albany, and instead issued a statement saying the agency “is fully compliant with ethics requirements, takes compliance seriously and will continue to moving forward.”

There are an estimated 70,000 employees at the M.T.A. alone, more than twice the number of employees subject to mandatory ethics training before Ms. Hochul took office.

The two legislators who were alerted by the official about the impossibility of complying with the new ethics training rules — which Ms. Hochul required over a year ago in an executive order — say only new action and money can fix the problem.

“What we’re requiring is not scalable,” said Assemblywoman Fahy, a Democrat from Albany. “We went overboard with the requirements without giving any of the tools to implement it.” Likewise, Mr. McDonald, the Democrat who chairs the Governmental Operations Committee, said Ms. Hochul would have to get more funding for the initiative if it is to have any chance of success.

“This was a well intentioned but not long-thought-out process that needs further attention,” he said, adding that it was a responsibility that “starts with the executive.”

Even Ms. Hochul’s appointee at the ethics commission, interim chairman Frederick A. Davie, said if Ms. Hochul’s office and the State Legislature didn’t come up with more resources, the new training edict would amount to little more than an empty promise.

“We have to have the resources to do it,” Mr. Davie said. “Otherwise, the whole thing is a mockery.”

Ms. Crampton-Hays, the governor’s spokeswoman, noted that the ethics commission received $2 million more in funding than its predecessor agency, which was disbanded and reformulated under Ms. Hochul’s direction. Ms. Crampton-Hays said the governor would increase support for the ethics commission in her new budget, set to be unveiled this week, to help make the live training mandate become a reality.

As for the sexual harassment training, Crampton-Hays said the 500 or so employees in senior agency leadership and the entire office of the governor, known as the executive chamber, had attended live classes. As for the rest of state government that falls directly under the governor’s authority, a total of 27 state employees have done the same.

Taken together, that represents a current completion rate of about 0.4 percent of the 130,000 state employees in executive agencies who are subject to Ms. Hochul’s mandate. Ms. Crampton-Hays said the state would be hiring vendors to expand the sexual harassment training “in the next few months.”

“It’s a lot easier to say you want to do things than it is to get it done,” said Blair Horner, director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “If the state is serious about ethics reform, they’re going to have to put the money up to make it happen.”

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