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Ethics - Misuse of Position

A friend asked me to help her with a complaint that she made to my agency about a finance company she is having a problem with. Can I ask the consumer affairs office to act more quickly on her problem?

You cannot use your position with the Government for your own personal gain or for the benefit of others. This includes family, friends, neighbors, and persons or organizations that you are affiliated with outside the Government. In this case, you would be using the access you have to the consumer affairs office because of your Government job to obtain special treatment for your friend. You also may be violating a criminal law (18 USC 205) if you act as a spokesperson on behalf of your friend to any Federal agency. But you could find out if there is anyone who routinely takes calls from the public about the status of their complaints and provide that information to your friend.

At lunch, some of my coworkers were talking about developing some specifications for a project that my agency will soon be putting out for bids. A friend of mine works for a company that is in the business, and it might help him if he knew about what's coming along. Can I tell him about the project, without discussing the specifications?

That depends on whether the project itself is public information. You cannot use (or allow someone else to use) non-public information to benefit yourself or some other person. If information about the project has not been made known to the public and is not authorized to be made known upon request, then it is nonpublic information and cannot be disclosed. It makes no difference that you heard about it at the lunch table and not as a result of your official duties. If the fact that the agency is going to pursue the project is public, you can certainly make sure your friend knows when the agency publishes or makes available information about the project.

May I use the photocopier at work to make copies of a flyer for a bake sale at my child's school?

No. You must conserve and protect Government property and you cannot use Government property or allow its use, other than for authorized purposes. It makes no difference whether you gain personally or whether the group you are helping is nonprofit. You may not use the photocopying machine, or any other Government property, including supplies, computers, telephones, mail, records, or Government vehicles for purposes other than doing your job (unless the Department has rules permitting some types of incidental use).

My boss asked me to help him do some work connected with an outside group he belongs to. Can I help him if I have free time during the day?

Official time at work is to be used for the performance of official duties. So the answer is "no," unless there is some other specific authority that allows you to use your time at work for other purposes.

Examples of Things That Cannot Be Done with Government Time, Information, and Resources

  • Ken cannot tell his friend to sell his stock in a company that Ken knows is under investigation by his agency, unless that information is available to the public.
  • Joyce, who works as a real estate broker in the evenings and on weekends, may not make or take calls at her Government office to or from potential real estate clients.
  • Ahmad cannot use agency letterhead for a letter of recommendation for his brother-in-law for a job with an office supply company. Letters of recommendation on agency letterhead are permitted only when recommending someone who worked for you in the Federal Government or who is seeking Federal employment.
  • An agency employee cannot use her official title or refer to her Government position in a book jacket endorsement of a novel that she likes or in a newspaper's review of the book.

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