Employee Conduct Standards:

Some Outside Activities Present Conflict-of-Interest Issues

GGD-92-34: Published: Feb 10, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 6, 1992.

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Nancy R. Kingsbury
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed possible conflicts of interest when federal employees do similar work both inside and outside of government, focusing on: (1) the extent and characteristics of employees' approved activities outside the federal government; (2) agency regulations and procedures for monitoring outside activities; (3) approved activities that could create the appearance of conflicts of interest; and (4) whether the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has provided guidance to agencies on approving and monitoring employees' outside activities or reviewed agency controls over such activities.

GAO found that: (1) the number of employees with approved outside activities ranged from less than 1 percent at 1 agency to 11 percent at another; (2) speaking and consulting activities were the most frequently approved activities among the 11 agencies; (3) some agencies do not monitor employees' activities outside of the government to the extent required to ensure that violations of laws are avoided; (4) OGE monitored most of the 11 agencies' controls over outside activities and recommended improvements, but agencies did not always implement the recommendations; (5) five agencies approved some activities that appear to violate standards of conduct prohibiting the use of public office for private gain; (6) Congress is considering proposals to apply the ban of the acceptance of honoraria by most federal employees for outside speeches, articles, and appearances only to such activities that focus specifically on government work; and (7) OGE proposed new standards of conduct for all executive branch employees that would establish a requirement for prior approval of employees' outside activities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 1991, OGE completed reviews of NIH and the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration in HHS. In 1992, OGE issued new standard-of-conduct regulations. OGE started follow-up reviews at HHS in September 1993 and completed followup with Commerce to ensure that applicable restrictions are enforced. Recent OGE reports on Commerce and EPA showed no problems concerning outside employment. An audit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under HHS is due to be issued in August 1994. While the audit found no serious problems with outside employment, OGE did make recommendations for improving procedures relating to outside employment. In the fall of 1994, OGE is again to audit NIH to determine its progress in dealing with outside employment.

    Recommendation: To help avoid ethics problems relating to employees' outside activities, the Director, OGE, should ensure that the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fully adopt and comply with applicable restrictions on employees' compensation for outside speeches, articles, and appearances that relate to federal responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Office of Government Ethics

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OGE provided additional guidance on consulting activities in its final standards-of-conduct regulations issued on August 7, 1992. It provided clarification as to how the regulations apply to consulting in the summary section, and section 2635.802 of the regulations. See Fed. Reg. Vol. 57, No. 53, pages 35040 and 35062.

    Recommendation: To help avoid ethics problems relating to employees' outside activities, the Director, OGE, should provide agencies with guidance and criteria on the acceptance of compensation for consulting activities that relate to agencies' responsibilities, programs, and operations.

    Agency Affected: Office of Government Ethics

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the final standard-of-conduct regulations, OGE, in section 2635.803 "prior approval for outside employment and activities", stated the following: "Where it is deemed necessary--for the purpose of administering its ethics program, an agency shall--require employees--to obtain prior approval before engaging in specific types of outside activities."

    Recommendation: To help avoid problems relating to employees' outside activities, the Director, OGE, should revise the proposed OGE standard-of-conduct regulations to require that each agency establish, when appropriate and necessary on the basis of its particular mission and operations, adequate prior agency review of employee's outside activities and periodic update of approvals.

    Agency Affected: Office of Government Ethics


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