The U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is tasked with fostering high ethical standards for executive branch employees and strengthening the public’s confidence that the government’s business is conducted with impartiality and integrity. The OGE promulgates rules and regulations that govern standards of ethical conduct for civilian employees throughout the government, maintains a financial disclosure system, and oversees ethics programs in Executive Branch agencies. Generally speaking, each agency has its own ethics office and issues rules implementing OGE regulations and guidance.
The conduct of executive branch employees is governed by criminal and civil statutes and an administrative code of conduct. OGE and Agency ethics rules cover topics such as:
- Financial conflicts of interest and impartiality
- Gifts and payments
- Use of government position and resources
- Outside employment and activities
- Post government employment
These ethical laws also address bribery, illegal gratuities and criminal conflicts of interest. Most relevant to many of our clients are the rules and regulations governing employment after leaving the government and navigating the transition from federal to private sector employment
Ethical considerations often arise when an individual leaves federal employment to work for a government contractor. Oftentimes, the departing federal employee is prohibited from working on matters they worked on while employed for the government. Depending on the nature of the individual’s role, post-employment restrictions may be permanent or temporary. OGE regulations also restrict the types of communications and appearances an individual may have with the federal government after she joins the private sector if those communications are made with the intent to influence the government. In some circumstances, an individual may be restricted to working only “behind the scenes” in her company’s dealings with the government. These various rules can sometimes present complex questions for departing or former federal employees, and seeking advice of an experienced attorney before engaging in potentially restricted activities can be invaluable in such situations.
OGE does not enforce ethical standards. When ethics officials have information concerning a possible violation of a criminal statute, the employing/hiring/former agency coordinates with its office of Inspector General (or similar investigative unit), to investigate the matter and refer violations to the appropriate authority. A federal ethical violation may result in a criminal prosecution, corrective action, penalties and fines, or discipline against a federal employee.
If you need help navigating the complex federal ethical guidelines, talk with an experienced attorney who can guide you through this process. During an initial consultation, we can evaluate whether you may face employment restrictions, what those restrictions might be, and how to protect yourself.