United States Office of Government Ethics, Preventing Conflicts of Interest in the Executive Branch

A Refresher on Misuse of Position
January 13, 2017

Executive branch employees are subject to an important set of ethics rules contained in the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. These rules serve to guard the federal service against ethical problems that could undermine public confidence in the integrity of the government’s operations. They regulate such things as conflicts of interest, misuse of position, impartiality, and gifts.

Earlier “Director’s Notes” have discussed conflicts of interest, impartiality, and gifts. Today’s note focuses on the rule against misuse of position. This rule reflects a view, which has gained currency in the international community, that one definition of corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Consistent with that view, the rule against misuse of position prohibits employees from:

  • Using public office for their own private gain for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom they are affiliated in a non-government capacity;
  • Endorsing any product, service, or company;
  • Engaging in financial transactions using nonpublic information, or allowing the improper use of nonpublic information to further private interests; and
  • Misusing government property or official time.

It is important that every executive branch employee be aware of the rule against misuse of position. For this reason, OGE’s regulations establishing the executive branch ethics program require agency ethics officials to cover the subject of misuse of position in mandatory government ethics training. By focusing on this rule and their other basic ethical obligations, employees can truly honor the principle that public service is a public trust.

Later this month, I’ll post a brief refresher on the impartiality rule.