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Agency Ethics and Conflicts of Interest

  • Federal employees are public servants. Because of this, laws, regulations and policies are developed to assure the public that Federal employees will not engage in any actions that create or appear to create an impropriety.
  • Violations of ethic laws or regulations may subject Federal employees to civil and/or criminal penalties as well as removal from office.
  • Organizational ethics are important because they are the core standards on which an organization bases its mission, policies, and management. The BLM’s land and service ethics act as screens for decision-making. They are the line that we as an agency will not cross.
  • Working through ethics requires thought and is not always an easy process. While answers can be difficult to reach, they should never be made simple for simplicity’s sake.
  • If the stated policy or mission of a potential partner is clearly contrary to the ethics of the BLM, we will not enter into a partnership with that organization.
  • Partnership arrangements could result in conflicts with the requirements of appropriations law.
  • Federal rules on fundraising and solicitation apply to the establishment of partnerships. Refer to 5 CFR 2635.
  • Employees must represent the mission of the agency when they participate as Federal officials with private entities in developing public-private partnerships.
  • Employees can represent the BLM during development of voluntary partnerships based upon mutual needs. However, employees are prohibited from representing the partner during development of the partnership.
  • Employees can use Federal Government facilities or work on various partnership issues related to the Bureau of Land Management activities covered by the standard agreement between the agency and the partner.
  • Employees can participate, with agency authorization, as Federal officials in business relationships and in organizations, including those in which the employee is an active member.

Conflict of Interest

BLM’s employees should be aware that it is important to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest in our daily dealings with our partners. The goal is to separate partnership efforts enough from other business processes that a conflict of interest is avoided. It should never appear that the partnership relationship gives either party inappropriate benefit.

Conflict of interest guidelines are applied through regulatory restrictions and criminal statutes. These guidelines protect employees from the appearance of a conflict of interest or impropriety. Be aware that as employees work closely with partners over a long period of time, there is a real risk that the close relationship could be construed as conflict of interest.

THINGS TO DO When Establishing Private Sector Partnerships

DO have a written partnership agreement. Set forth objectives of the partnership, expected benefits to the Department’s programs, policy on endorsements and advertising and the responsibilities of each partner.Partnerships are fluid. An agreement puts down on paper the expectations of the partnership and each partner’s contributions. Having a written agreement also gives documentation of the effort of the employee that is dedicating time and resources to managing and nurturing the partnership. A partnership agreement can be a useful tool for gauging changes in the relationship over time – how far have the results of the current partnership changed from the original intent?
DO have employees who are officers in partner organizations recuse (disqualify) themselves from any involvement as a federal employee in particular matters in which that partner organization has a financial interest.18 U.S.C. 208 requires employees to refrain from working on particular matters when the employee is serving as an officer in a private organization when that organization has a financial interest in the particular matters. The term organization includes academic, non-profit, tax exempt as well as profit making organizations. Officer means President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Trustee, Director, Ex-Officio officers or directors and any other position with a fiduciary duty to the organization.
EXAMPLE: An employee who is an officer in a private society that wishes to swap land with the Federal Government, may not work on the land swap issue in his or her Federal employment capacity at a time when he or she is an officer in the outside organization that has a financial interest in the matter.
DO authorize official time for employees to work on the joint effort for which the partnership was established.18 U.S.C. 205 – Federal employees may not represent anyone other than the United States before a Federal agency or court in connection with a particular matter in which the U.S. is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. Represent means any type of contact, even a telephone call, if the contact is made with intent to influence the agency or court on a particular matter.
When official time is granted to an employee for service in a private sector organization, especially service as an officer, the primary beneficiary must be the programs and operations of the Department.
EXAMPLE: This law prohibits a federal employee who is on his or her own time from representing a non-profit, tax-exempt organization before any Federal agency in an attempt to influence the employees of that agency on some issue pending before them. It makes no difference what position is taken. However, if the employee was working under an approved partnership agreement as a part of his or her duties, he or she would be representing the U.S. and there would be no violation of this statute. In addition, an employee may be allowed to attend outside functions, such as conventions or meetings, when it is in the best interest of the government.
DO create mutually beneficial partnerships with others whose missions may vary from ours, as long as they are not in conflict with our land and service ethics or civil rights policies.Sec. 307 (a) [43 U.S.C. 1737] FLPMA states “The Secretary may conduct investigations, studies, and experiments, on his own initiative or in cooperation with others, involving the management, protection, development, acquisition, and conveying of the public lands.” Sec. 307 (b) [43 U.S.C. 1737] FLPMA states “Subject to the provisions of applicable law, the Secretary may enter into contracts and cooperative agreements involving the management, protection, development, and sale of public lands.”
EXAMPLE: We can create a cooperative agreement with an automobile manufacturer, grocery store chain, or elementary school that does business with the agency in a way that does not conflict with our ethics.
DO talk to representatives of organizations about sharing resources, including money, where we are likely to consummate an appropriate cost-sharing agreement.Sec. 307 (c) [43 U.S.C. 1737 (c)] FLPMA “Authorizes the Secretary to accept contributions or donations of money, services, and property for the management, protection, development, acquisition, and conveying of public lands.”
DO allow employees to assist a community partner in writing a grant proposal to the BLM, as long as that employee is not part of the grant review or decision process.When official time is granted to you for service in a private sector organization the primary beneficiary must be the programs and operations of the Department.


THINGS NOT TO DO When Establishing Private Sector Partnerships

DON’T endorse the products or services of the partner organization in your official capacity.5 CFR 2635 – Federal employees may not endorse the products or services of private organizations nor may private organizations use appropriated funds to advertise. Such activities may result in the misuse of public office for private gain. The provision on private gain refers to anyone’s private gain NOT just the Federal employee’s private gain.
EXAMPLE: Interior employees may, however, provide endorsement or support for charitable and other fundraising activities administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) under its delegation from the President; and to those other programs authorized by the Secretary of the Interior. You may endorse any outside program in your private capacity, however, your endorsement may not make reference to your official title or position within the Department.
DON’T solicit funds or donations for your programs from partner organizations without specific statutory authority to solicit and to accept donations and gifts.Congress has authorized some of the Department’s constituent agencies - - such as the National Park Service (NPS), The Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) - - to accept donations, either to further the mission of the agency generally or for more limited purposes. Congress has not expressly provided these agencies with the authority to solicit gifts. Absent such additional authority, the agencies’ role with respect to donations is generally restricted to educating the public about the existence of the gift acceptance authority and the specific gift needs of the bureau. (DOI Donation Activity Guidelines, 1996)
For Department employees, fundraising in an official capacity may be permitted only if the charitable organization is approved by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
EXAMPLE: The most highly visible charitable organization sanctioned by OPM is the Combined Federal Campaign. You may engage in fundraising activities as a private citizen, provided you do not use your official title or position to further the fundraising event.
DON’T create an organization to do what your own agency cannot do and then enter into a partnership with it.Under 31 U.S.C. 9102, an agency may establish or acquire a corporation to act as an agency only by or under a law of the United States specifically authorizing the action.
DON’T accept any compensation other than your federal salary for official duty services you provide to partner organizations unless that compensation is from a Federal agency.18 U.S.C. 209 is a criminal statute that prohibits dual compensation for services provided by Federal employees. In other words, only the United States can pay you for work that you do as a Federal employee.
EXAMPLE: Employees may accept meals and unsolicited gifts have an aggregate market value of $20 or less per occasion, provided that the aggregate market value of individual gifts received from any one person under the authority of 5 CFR 2635.204 does not exceed $50 in a calendar year.
DON’T use appropriated money to pay for lobbying activities to be performed by a partner.18 U.S.C. 1913. This criminal statute prohibits the use of appropriated funds to lobby Congress except through established official Federal agency channels and the procedures sanctioned by the Office of Management and Budget.
DON’T control or assume any measure of practical responsibility for the fund raising activities of private individuals or organizations that are partners.Executive Order 12674, which does not carry criminal penalties, prohibits employees from fund raising by provisions that prohibit any actions that result in or create the appearance of: Using public office for private gain (meaning anyone’s private gain), or losing independence or impartiality or affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of the Government.
DON’T partner on a project that is in conflict with our stated ethics or civil rights policies. 
EXAMPLE: We cannot partner on a project with a party that is likely to result in long-term soil erosion or water quality degradation.
DON’T partner on a project that might jeopardize the conservation of a threatened species on adjacent private lands.We cannot partner with anyone whose stated policy or mission is contrary to our ethics.
DON’T partner on a project with an entity that discriminates based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, or marital or familial status.We cannot partner with anyone whose stated policy or mission is contrary to our ethics.
DON’T give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual.Executive Order 12674, as modified by Executive Order 12731 outlines the principles of ethical conduct.

If an ethics issue or question arises when developing a partnership or working within a partnership, the employee should contact their local Assistant Ethics Counselor or call Teresa Milner, Assistant Ethics Counselor and Employee Development, DOI/BLM at 303-236-3569. Her email address is: