Monday, August 9, 2010

Interacting with Government Employees

Inevitably, Government contractors or potential Government contractors will find themselves face-to-face with Government employees. As a contractor or contractor employee, you might find yourself working at a Government site along side Government employees. At larger contractors, Government employees are working right there in your facility. You might find yourselves together at the same hotel for a conference (e.g. an NCMA conference) or for contract negotiation or some kind of performance review. .

It's important for you to know about the ethics rules and principles that apply to Government employees - particularly if you work closely together. It's important to ensure that your interactions with Government employees don't inadvertently trigger ethics problems for them.

This week, we are going to examine some of the more common ethics issues that come up when working with Government employees. Much of this information comes from materials published by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. You can visit their website for more information. On Friday, we will link to some specific areas within that site that further address the issues we will cover this week. Those issues include

  • Conflicts of interest, impartiality and related ethics issues
  • Gifts that Government employees may accept from contractors
  • Government employees seeking work as an employee of a contractor
  • What happens after Government employees leave Government service to work as a contractor employee
  • What happens when contractor employees enter Government service

The subject of ethics is important because Government employees hold their jobs as a matter of public trust. That trust is fulfilled when employees follow general principles of ethical conduct as well as specific ethical standards. Additionally, FAR requires contractors to maintain codes of ethics and business conduct.

Conflicts of Interest

Government employees are prohibited from having financial conflicts of interest with their official work. Generally, a Government employee may not work on a Government matter that will affect his financial interests, or the financial interests of:

  • a spouse or minor child
  • a general partner
  • an organization he serves as an officer, director, trustee, general partner or employee, and
  • a person with whom he is seeking or has an arrangement for future employment.
Maintaining Impartiality and Integrity

Even when a Government employee doesn't have a financial interest that can be affected by a contract, situations may sometimes arise that can call his impartiality into question such that he may have to disqualify himself from working on a contract.

If the employee or his agency believes that a reasonable person, with knowledge of the relevant facts, might question the Government employee's impartiality, the employee must stop working on the matter and seek assistance from an ethics official.

Spousal Employment

Sometimes a Government employee has a spouse who works for a contractor that does business with that employee's agency. In this case, the Government employee may be prohibited from working on an agency contract with the contractor.

Representing Contractors

Government employees are generally prohibited from representing an outside party to the Government. This means that they may not represent any contractor in dealings with the Government whether or not they've been paid by the contractor to make the representation.

Example: A contractor wants to hire a Government employee to represent the company in negotiations with the Government on a new contract. The Government employee may not represent the company back to the Government...even to a different agency from the one where she/he is employed.

Personal Relationships

Under the ethics rules and laws, a Government employee is not automatically prohibited from working on a Government matter (such as a contract) involving a person with whom he has a personal relationship (e.g., dating, or someone who is a friend or relative). However, Government employees need to exercise caution and should consider whether a reasonable person, with knowledge of the relevant facts, might question their impartiality.

For example, an employee should not continue working on a Government contract if he were dating one of the contractor's employees and were in a position to review that person's work.


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