Avoid conflicts of interest when applying to new jobs, ethics office says

As some federal employees begin to scour the job market ahead of the upcoming presidential transition, the Office of Government Ethics has tweaked its rules for federal employees looking for new opportunities outside of the federal government.

Employees must recuse themselves from any agency matter that may “directly or predictably affect the financial interests of a prospective employer” or an employer with whom the person is in the middle of negotiations, according to a new final rule updating the standards of ethical conduct from OGE.

The rule points to several cases that more clearly explain federal employees’ recusal requirements.

For example, OGE describes a scenario where an Education Department employee submits a resume to the University of Delaware. The employee is actively looking for a job, but his agency does not do work with that university. In this case, the employee isn’t required to tell his agency that he’s started looking for another job.

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However in another example, the same Education employee submits a resume with the University of Maryland. UMD has applied to grants with the department before, and this employee has worked on a few of those grants in the past. In this case, the employee isn’t required to tell his agency about his discussions with the University of Maryland, OGE said. But the employee’s situation would change if the department suddenly assigns him to a work on a new grant with UMD. In that scenario, the OGE rule requires that this employee tell his agency and recuse himself from working on that particular grant, the rule said.

The OGE rule also specifies parameters within the job application timeline that federal employees should be aware of if they’re applying to a new position.

For example, federal employees who contact an outside organization and ask for a job application do not have to inform their agencies, the rule said.

And if a federal employee doesn’t receive a response from the potential new employer after two months, or the applicant gets a rejection from the organization, OGE does not consider it an issue and the federal employee does not have to disclose.

A federal employee who simply receives a letter or notice from the prospective employer acknowledging that it received his resume or application does indicate an interest in employment discussions, and the employee does not have to inform his agency, OGE said.

OGE also encouraged federal employees to work with their agency ethics officers as other questions come up about their future employment. Most federal employees will not have to tell their agencies about future job offers or negotiations unless they pose a conflict of interest, but the rule said there are some exceptions.

“An employee may, however, be subject to other statutes that impose requirements on employment contacts or discussions, such as 41 USC 2103, which is applicable to agency officials involved in certain procurement matters,” the rule said.

OGE published its initial request for proposal in February to revise ethical standards for employees at Executive Branch agencies. It did not receive any comments after the 60-day open feedback period.

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The final rule comes less than five months away from the upcoming presidential transition, where many political appointees will likely leave their positions and head to jobs in private or non-profit sector.

Congress has also been particularly inquisitive over agencies’ preparations to prevent political appointees from “burrowing in” to the next administration in January. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent letters last week to all 24 Chief Financial Officers Act departments, asking for specific numbers of appointees who have been converted to career positions within the past year.