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

OGE Overhauls Requirements for the Executive Branch Ethics Program
November 3, 2016

Yesterday, OGE issued a regulation overhauling requirements for the executive branch ethics program. The new regulation replaces 5 C.F.R. part 2638, which was first issued in 1981 and has remained largely in its original form for the past 35 years. 

The new regulation clarifies the mission, scope, and elements of the executive branch ethics program and establishes a number of new ethics responsibilities. Among other things, the new regulation:

  • Clearly defines the mission of the executive branch ethics program, which guards against conflicts of interest and protects the integrity of the government’s operations;
  • Describes the responsibilities of the many officials responsible for government ethics, including: employees, supervisors, agency ethics officials, lead human resources officials, Inspectors General, agency heads, and the staff of the Office of Government Ethics;
  • Emphasizes the responsibilities of agency heads for their agencies’ ethics programs, such as: establishing an effective agency ethics program; fostering an ethical culture in the agency; providing the Designated Agency Ethics Official with sufficient resources, including staffing resources, to sustain an effective ethics program;  enforcing ethics laws and regulations; and addressing violations of ethics rules or interference with the agency’s ethics program in the performance appraisals of members of the Senior Executive Service;
  • Establishes an ongoing role for Inspectors General in contributing to the mechanism for notifying OGE of criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, and highlights the role of Inspectors General in investigating ethics violations;
  • Strengthens coordination between human resources officials and agency ethics officials in support of ethics functions, such as identifying new employees subject to financial disclosure and training requirements;
  • Establishes a requirement that agencies prepare their ethics programs for Presidential transitions;
  • Strengthens the effectiveness of ethics training by: Replacing informal ethics orientations with formal ethics training for new hires; increasing annual ethics training requirements; and establishing a new requirement for PAS appointees to receive individualized ethics briefings within 15 days of appointment;
  • Requires agencies to include notices regarding applicable ethics requirements in offer letters, so that every prospective new hire will have to make a conscious choice to either become a contributing part of an agency’s strong ethical culture or decline the job offer;
  • Requires agencies to issue notices regarding applicable ethics requirements to employees who are promoted to supervisory positions;
  • Provides a timeline for key ethics deadlines throughout the year; and
  • Institutionalizes OGE’s practice in recent years of collaborating with—and supporting—agency ethics officials through a variety of mechanisms including quarterly meetings for Designated Agency Ethics Officials, consultations with ethics officials regarding legal advisories, and a centralized electronic filing system for public financial disclosure.

In crafting this new ethics rule, OGE collaborated extensively with an array of experienced executive branch officials, including agency ethics officials and Inspectors General. In addition, OGE consulted the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Department of Justice. OGE also issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to solicit public comment. OGE benefitted greatly from the shared expertise of the many contributing stakeholders, and the regulation is stronger as a result of their input.

Going forward, the regulation will bolster the existing mechanisms for preventing conflicts of interest in the executive branch. The new requirements become effective on January 1, 2017. Click here to read the new regulation.