New Ethics Rules For Federal Employees

The United States Office of Government Ethics has issued a new regulation overhauling requirements for the executive branch ethics program. It comes at a time when the public indicates a low level of trust in elected officials.

The United States Office of Government Ethics has issued a new regulation overhauling requirements for the executive branch ethics program.

The new ethics rules come at a time when both Democrats (68%) and Republicans (78%) say they have not too much or no confidence at all in elected officials to act in the best interests of the public while still showing trust in the military, medical scientists, and scientists, according to the Pew Research Center.

The regulation goes into effect January 1, 2017, and replaces 5 C.F.R. part 2638, which was first issued in 1981 and has remained largely in its original form for the past 35 years.

Among other things, the new regulation:

  • Clearly defines the mission of the executive branch ethics program, which guards against conflicts of interest and protects the integrity of the government’s operations;
  • Describes the responsibilities of the many officials responsible for government ethics, including: employees, supervisors, agency ethics officials, lead human resources officials, Inspectors General, agency heads, and the staff of the Office of Government Ethics;
  • Emphasizes the responsibilities of agency heads for their agencies’ ethics programs, such as: establishing an effective agency ethics program; fostering an ethical culture in the agency; providing the Designated Agency Ethics Official with sufficient resources, including staffing resources, to sustain an effective ethics program;  enforcing ethics laws and regulations; and addressing violations of ethics rules or interference with the agency’s ethics program in the performance appraisals of members of the Senior Executive Service;
  • Establishes an ongoing role for Inspectors General in contributing to the mechanism for notifying OGE of criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, and highlights the role of Inspectors General in investigating ethics violations;
  • Establishes a requirement that agencies prepare their ethics programs for Presidential transitions;
  • Requires agencies to include notices regarding applicable ethics requirements in offer letters, so that every prospective new hire will have to make a conscious choice to either become a contributing part of an agency’s strong ethical culture or decline the job offer; and
  • Requires agencies to issue notices regarding applicable ethics requirements to employees who are promoted to supervisory positions.

According to its website, the OGE believes: “When government decisions are made free from conflicts of interest, the public can have greater confidence in the integrity of executive branch programs and operations.”

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.