FINANCIAL INTERESTS AND IMPARTIALITY
"The difficulty is to know conscience from self-interest." -- Samuel Butler
A true story: A senior government official, who owned numerous
shares of stock in a beverage company, attended several meetings
about the company and ordered a financial impact analysis of a
possible business alliance between the agency and the company.
When advised of a possible ethics problem, he disqualified
himself from further actions relating to the business alliance.
Nonetheless, the official was prosecuted for violating 18 U.S.C.
208 and ultimately settled the case by paying thousands of
dollars in civil penalties (not to mention attorneys' fees).
I have stock in a company that has business with my agency. Is that a problem?
It may be. You may not participate personally and substantially
in any particular Government matter that would affect your
financial interests. This criminal prohibition also applies to
matters that would affect the financial interests of other
people close to you, such as your spouse, minor child, general
partner, or an organization in which you are serving as officer,
director, trustee, general partner or employee. It also applies
to matters affecting the interests of anyone with whom you are
negotiating, or have an arrangement for future employment.
One of the most common areas in which this rule applies is stock
interests. Specifically, you must be recused from a matter that
affects the interests of a company that you (or your spouse,
minor child, etc.) hold stock in. You do not have a conflict of
interest merely because the company does business with your
agency, but you may not participate in matters affecting that
company's interests. Because the application of the rule can be
complex, it is wise to seek advice prior to any involvement in a
matter that could affect the interests of that company.
Other than recusal, what options do I have for resolving conflicts of interest?
You may be permitted to act in a matter that affects your
financial interests if your agency grants you a waiver or if the
ethics rules specifically allow it. Alternatively, you could
divest the conflicting interest. You might be able to defer the
tax consequences of a capital gain incurred from the divestiture
if you receive prior approval from the Office of Government
My adult child is employed by a company that has business with my agency. Is that a problem?
Some situations may require you to take certain steps to ensure
that you do not have even the appearance of a conflict of
interest. For example, you may have to disqualify yourself from
participating in a Government matter if someone with whom you
have a covered relationship is, or represents, a party to the
matter. You have a covered relationship with anyone with whom
you have a business relationship, members of your household,
relatives with whom you have a close personal relationship, your
spouse's or parents' employers, anyone for whom you have worked
in the past year, and any organization in which you actively
Certain severance payments from your former employer may require
your disqualification from participating in Government matters
in which your former employer is a party or represents a party.
Any time you feel that your impartiality reasonably could be
questioned, you should discuss the situation with an ethics
official before proceeding.
A non-profit group has offered to pay me to give a speech about
one of my agency's programs. May I accept the offer?
You may not accept the payment. Your salary for Government work
can be paid only by the United States. You may not receive
compensation from anyone other than the Government for
performing your official duties. That means, for example, that
you could not get paid by an outside organization for giving a
speech that relates to your official duties. In that case, the
Government is paying you to make the speech.
Guidance From The Office of Government Ethics: