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

Employees Leaving Government

In general, an executive branch employee is free to seek post-Government employment, but the employee may need to be disqualified from working on some Government matters while doing so.

Disqualification While "Seeking Employment"

A criminal conflict of interest statute, 18 U.S.C. § 208, prohibits an employee from participating personally and substantially, in an official capacity, in any "particular matter" that would have a direct and predictable effect on the employee's financial interests or on the financial interests of a person or organization with whom the employee is negotiating or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment. A related executive branch-wide regulation, Subpart F of 5 C.F.R. part 2635, prohibits an employee from working on a particular matter if the employee is "seeking employment" with a person or organization affected by that matter, even though the employee's job search has not progressed to actual negotiations. An employee who complies with the disqualification requirements in Subpart F will ensure compliance with the conflict of interest statute.

An employee is "seeking employment" as defined in Subpart F, and the disqualification ("recusal") requirement applies, if:

  • the employee is engaged in actual negotiations for employment;
  • a prospective employer has contacted the employee about possible employment and the employee makes a response other than rejection; or
  • the employee has contacted a prospective employer about possible employment, unless the sole purpose of the contact is to request a job application. (An employee is seeking employment with any person to whom he sends an unsolicited resume, regardless of how many resumes the employee sends to other employers at the same time.)

If a search firm or other intermediary is involved, disqualification is not triggered unless the intermediary identifies the prospective employer to the employee.

If the disqualification requirement applies, it extends to any particular matter (virtually any Government matter) that would have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the prospective employer. However, if an employee has thus far acted only unilaterally, a narrow exception permits the employee to work on particular matters that affect the prospective employer only "as part of an industry or other discrete class." Under the exception, work on this category of matters is permissible until the employee receives an expression of interest from the employer.

An employee is no longer seeking employment if:

  • two months have elapsed since the employee's dispatch of an unsolicited resume and the employee has received no expression of interest from the prospective employer; or
  • either the employee or the prospective employer rejects the possibility of employment and all discussions of possible employment have ended. A response that merely defers discussion until the foreseeable future does not constitute rejection.

Example: Ted has met with representatives of several companies while working on a rulemaking that will affect the financial interests of those companies. One of the representatives asks Ted if he would be interested in discussing a job opening. If Ted responds that he would like to discuss the opening, but not until the rulemaking is published, he has not rejected the possibility of employment.

Notification and Documentation of Disqualification

When an employee becomes aware of the need to be disqualified from a particular matter, the employee should notify the person responsible for his or her assignments, and may choose to document the disqualification in writing. Notification permits a supervisor to minimize any disruption of the agency's mission by arranging assignments accordingly. Moreover, as a practical matter, an employee may need to explain the lack of progress on an assignment.

Any employee who is a public financial disclosure report filer must file a signed notification statement with his or her agency ethics official within three business days after commencing negotiations or entering into an agreement with a non-Federal entity to accept post-Government employment or compensation. The statement must identify the entity and specify the date the negotiations or agreement commenced. A public filer must also document his or her disqualification from any particular matter that would have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the entity and submit that signed disqualification document to his or her agency ethics official. The notification statement and written disqualification may be combined in a single submission.

Some agencies may have established additional requirements concerning notification or the documentation of disqualifications (and see below concerning additional requirements for some procurement officials).


Interview Expenses

If disqualified as necessary in accordance with Subpart F, an employee may accept gifts of meals, lodging, transportation, and other benefits customarily provided by a prospective employer in connection with bona fide employment discussions. This gift provision is published at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.204(e)(3).


Possible Disqualification After Employment Search

If an employee accepts an offer of post-Government employment, the period of disqualification must continue until the end of Government service. If an employee's search for other employment proves unsuccessful, the disqualification requirement ends unless the agency imposes an additional period of disqualification.


Additional Requirements for Some Procurement Officials

If an employee is working "personally and substantially" on a procurement for a contract worth more than the simplified acquisition threshold, 41 U.S.C. § 2103 (formerly 41 U.S.C. § 423) requires that the employee provide written notice of a contact with an offeror about prospective employment, even if the employee or contractor immediately rejects the possibility of employment. This procurement integrity provision also requires the employee file a written disqualification memorandum if the employee commences to seek employment. Guidance concerning the particular requirements of this provision is published in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), at 48 C.F.R. part 3.

This information on this page is not a substitute for individual advice. Agency ethics officials should be consulted about a specific situation.