Have you ever been faced with a decision where your personal financial interests
seem to be in conflict with your government work?
Where what seems good for you may not be good for your agency?
It happens to a lot of us
and it can be very stressful as we struggle with making the best decision.
Imagine that a vendor doing business with USDA
has offered your family tickets to a concert
headlined by the latest teenage sensation.
Do you take the tickets and make your 13 year old daughter happy
but potentially feel obligated to the vendor for future purchases?
Or do you refuse the tickets but
then face an evening of teenaged tears when you get home from work?
It can feel like you are caught between a rock and a hard place.
The good news is that by the end of this Ethics Illustrated video
you’ll have the tools to confidently make the best choice in these situations.
You’ll make the right choices for both yourself and for your agency
avoid potential investigation and disciplinary action
and feel a whole lot better in the process.
The first step to avoiding conflicts of interest is to be able to IDENTIFY one.
A conflict of interest can occur any time we have a financial interest
or some other interest
such as an outside job or business
that could in some way impair our fairness and impartiality on the job.
Some examples of a conflict of interest include
outside activities like a second job
serving on an outside board where your official duties
are in conflict with your work responsibilities
or owning stock in a vendor.
accepting a valuable gift such as the concert tickets
from a vendor that does business with the government
can create real conflicts of interest.
Because the next time you give more work to that vendor
you may have created the appearance
that you provided that work in exchange for the valuable gift
something that appears unethical to others
violates ethics rules
and damages your reputation.
Also, since you feel obligated to the vendor
you may not make the best decision for the government.
So by now
you should have the information you need to identify a conflict.
Let’s say your brother-in-law is a computer vendor
and he approaches you about helping him gain a contract with your agency.
Since you have a personal relationship with your brother-in-law,
that clearly implicates another set of ethics rules
the impartiality rules,
and so you must DISCLOSE this to your supervisor or the USDA Office of Ethics.
Government agencies, like the Department of Agriculture
have resources to help you identify and disclose potential conflicts
such as financial disclosure forms
or, laws, regulations, and policies
that specify that we need to go to either our supervisors
or the USDA Office of Ethics with that information.
The important point is
if we have identified a potential conflict of interest
we need to reveal it, immediately.
Once we’ve disclosed the conflict to our agency
we need to immediately RECUSE ourselves
from any further business dealings related to that conflict.
What that means is that,
although your brother-in-law is free to pursue a contract with your agency
you must immediately remove yourself from
participating in any aspect of that procurement
or the selection process
You can’t have any part in recommending or deciding
whether to give your brother-in-law the work
or in writing his contract.
avoiding conflicts of interest means that you need to IDENTIFY the conflict
you need to immediately DISCLOSE the conflict
and you need to immediately
RECUSE yourself from any possible business dealings related to that conflict
Three simple steps to confidently making the best decision.
In the situation involving the concert tickets,
it’s now probably pretty clear that you have to refuse the tickets.
In the short term
it may not make the vendor or your daughter happy,
but in the long run
you’ll avoid the consequences of violating the Federal Ethics rules
and your reputation for ethical business dealings will remain intact among your colleagues
and you’ll be doing your part to support USDA’s strategic goal
of working with integrity for American taxpayers.
Now, doesn’t that make you feel better already?
If you have any questions about Conflicts of Interest, gifts
Impartiality issues, or other ethics issues,
please contact the USDA Office of Ethics.
To learn more about the Federal Ethics rules
please download the USDA Ethics Mobile App, for free, on any smart phone device
by searching “USDA Ethics.”
We’re the Office of Ethics
and we’re here to help.