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

Teaching, Speaking, & Writing
March 31, 2017

As explained in the general discussion of outside employment limitations, Subpart H of 5 C.F.R. part 2635 contains a number of provisions governing particular outside activities. One of those provisions, 5 C.F.R. § 2635.807, concerns teaching, speaking, and writing. As noted below, several other ethics provisions may also be relevant when an employee engages in these activities.

Note: Apart from the requirements in ethics provisions, including any provision in an agency supplemental regulation, an agency may have policies requiring advance agency review, clearance, or approval of certain speeches or writings, e.g., to ensure that a proper disclaimer is included or that classified information is not disclosed.
 

Teaching, Speaking, and Writing in Personal Capacity

Under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.807, an executive branch employee may not receive compensation from any source other than the Government for teaching, speaking, or writing that "relates" to the employee's official duties, subject to an exception for teaching certain courses. (If a foreign government would be the source of the compensation, the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution would also be relevant.) For most employees, teaching, speaking, or writing relates to an employee's official duties for purposes of this provision if:

  • the subject of the activity deals in significant part with any matter to which the employee presently is assigned or to which the employee had been assigned during the previous one-year period;
  • the invitation to speak was extended to the employee primarily because of the employee's official position, rather than his or her expertise in the subject;
  • the invitation or the offer of compensation was extended by a person or entity substantially affected by the performance of the employee's duties; or
  • the activity is based substantially on nonpublic information.

Even if teaching, speaking, or writing relates to official duties, as described above, most employees are permitted to accept travel expenses offered in connection with the activity. An employee may not use or permit the use of his or her official title or position (except as part of a biography or for identification as the author of an article with an appropriate disclaimer) to promote a book, seminar, course, program, or similar undertaking. Moreover, under Subpart G of 5 C.F.R. part 2635, an employee may not use the Government's property, nonpublic information, or time (including the time of a subordinate) for other than authorized purposes.

Note: Section 2635.807 applies differently to special Government employees and to political appointees. In particular, a political appointee who qualifies as a "covered noncareer employee" may not accept travel expenses from a non-Federal source if the teaching, speaking, or writing "relates" to the appointee's official duties. Separately, a political appointee may be subject to a limitation on outside income, and may--apart from any agency-specific requirement to obtain prior approval before engaging in an outside activity--be required by 5 C.F.R. § 2636.307 to obtain advance authorization to engage in teaching for compensation.
 

Teaching, Speaking, and Writing as Part of Official Duties

Under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.807 and a criminal conflict of interest statute, 18 U.S.C. § 209, an employee may not accept compensation (including travel expenses) for teaching, speaking, or writing undertaken as part of the employee's official duties. It is expected, however, that an employee will use Government time and resources to prepare for such an activity and will be identified by reference to his or her Government title.

Another 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 own financial interests or on the financial interests of an organization in which the employee currently serves as an officer, director, trustee, general partner, or employee. The following examples illustrate how this statute may be relevant:

Example: In his personal capacity, Andrew writes books. He may not direct his subordinate to purchase one of his books for use by their Government agency.

Example: In his personal capacity, Michael serves a charitable organization as an officer. The organization invites Michael to speak at its annual conference in his official Government capacity. Apart from any other considerations, Michael may not do so under 18 U.S.C. § 208 if the speech would have a direct and predictable effect on the organization's financial interests. In OGE's experience, the sponsor of an event will have a financial interest in an activity only if an admission fee is charged, the event is a fundraiser, or the event is some kind of business development activity (such as a seminar for current or prospective clients).

Also, in some circumstances, "appearances" might require an employee's disqualification from an official teaching, speaking, or writing activity under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502.

Example: Until joining Government, Rachel worked for a charitable organization, but she no longer works there and has no continuing financial ties to it. The organization invites Rachel to speak at its annual conference in her official Government capacity. Rachel has a "covered relationship" with the organization within the meaning of 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502, so impartiality concerns must be considered, but the appropriate agency official may determine in view of the circumstances that Rachel may deliver the speech.

Note: Some political appointees are required by Executive Order 13770 to sign an Ethics Pledge. Paragraph 6 of the Pledge is not intended to prohibit an appointee from participating in an official speech unless the speech would have a demonstrable financial effect on the appointee's former employer or client.
 

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