Ethical Considerations for Federal Employees

Ethical Considerations for Federal Employees 2016-12-14T20:27:46+00:00

To ensure that every citizen can have complete confidence in the integrity of the Federal government, each Federal employee is required to respect and adhere to the principles of ethical conduct set forth by law. Information concerning ethics in Federal employment can be found in 5 CFR 2635, as amended.


General Principles

The following general principles apply to every employee. Where a situation is not covered by these standards, employees should apply the principles below in determining whether their conduct is proper.

  1. Public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.
  2. Employees shall not hold financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty.
  3. Employees shall not engage in financial transactions using nonpublic government information or allow the improper use of such information to further any private interest.
  4. Employees shall not solicit or accept any gift or other item of monetary value from any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by an employee’s agency, or whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s duties.
  5. Employees shall put forth honest effort in the performance of their duties.
  6. Employees shall not knowingly make unauthorized commitments or promises of any kind purporting to bind the government.
  7. Employees shall not use public office for private gain.
  8. Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual.
  9. Employees shall protect and conserve Federal property and shall not use it for other than authorized activities.
  10. Employees shall not engage in outside employment or activities, including seeking or negotiating for employment, that conflict with official government duties and responsibilities.
  11. Employees shall disclose waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities.
  12. Employees shall satisfy in good faith their obligations as citizens, including all just financial obligations, especially those – such as Federal, State, or local taxes – that are imposed by law.
  13. Employees shall adhere to all laws and regulations that provide equal opportunity for all Americans regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap.
  14. Employees shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards set forth in this part. Whether particular circumstances create an appearance that the law or these standards have been violated shall be determined from the perspective of a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts.

When corrective actions are required in the case of ethical violations, it can take many forms. It includes any action necessary to remedy a past violation or prevent a continuing violation of these general principles including, but not limited to: restitution, change of assignment, disqualification, divestiture, termination of an activity, waiver, the creation of a qualified diversified or blind trust, or counseling. Disciplinary action can also be imposed. Disciplinary actions include, but are not limited to: reprimand, suspension, demotion, and removal.

Individual agencies may supplement ethics requirements, so it is important to check with the employing agency to ensure awareness of any additional requirements and restrictions.

Gifts from Outside Sources

Employees are prohibited from soliciting or accepting any gift from a prohibited source because of the employee’s official position unless the item is excluded from the definition of a gift.

Gifts Employees Can Accept

Federal government employees can accept the following gifts from contractors and other businesses:

  • Modest food and refreshments, such as coffee and pastries not offered as part of a meal.
  • Gifts valued at $20 or less per “source”, per occasion, although individual gifts from one source cannot exceed $50 in a calendar year.
  • Gifts based on a personal relationship. This means gifts from family members or friends with whom it is clear there is a true friendship – not a friendly relationship with a contractor that was formed on the job.
  • Meals, lodging, transportation, or other benefits from a spouse’s employer, provided that the gift was not given or enhanced because of a government job.
  • Gifts or discounts available to the general public, to all government employees, or to all military personnel.
  • Free attendance at a conference or similar “widely attended gathering”, as long as the agency determines that an employee’s attendance is in the agency’s best interest and certain other conditions are met.
  • Anything paid for by the government or secured by the government under a contract.

Gifts from Employees

The law prohibits Federal employees from giving, donating to, or soliciting contributions for a gift to an official superior to the potential donors, and from accepting a gift from an employee receiving less pay.

Gifts from employees receiving less pay. An employee may not, directly or indirectly, accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay unless:

  1. The two employees are not in a subordinate – official superior relationship; and
  2. There is a personal relationship between the two employees that would justify the gift.

It is never appropriate for a superior to coerce the offering of a gift from a subordinate.

Gifts to Superiors

The law also includes exceptions where it is appropriate to give gifts to a superior, such as gifts associated with weddings, illnesses, retirements or resignations.

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