Friday, September 13, 2019

Impartiality Impairments

The standards of ethical conduct for Government employees require that employees take appropriate steps to avoid an appearance of loss of impartiality in the performance of his or her official duties. To do this, the standards require that an employee should not participate in a particular matter involving specific parties with whom they had a covered relationship without prior authorization from the agency designee. Two things in this prohibition require definitions; 'particular matter' and 'covered relationship'.

A 'particular matter' includes, among other things, a contract in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. A 'covered relationship' would include a former employer with whom the employee worked for within the last twelve months.

Typically, when we read about violations of ethical standards, it involves a former Government employee who left and went to work for company with Government contracts where that employee had substantial involvement over the negotiation, award, and administration. But it could apply the other way as well - where a contractor employee goes to work for the Government. A recent audit report by the GSA (General Services Administration) Office of Inspector General (OIG) illustrates the later point. The OIG found that GSA and one of its employees violated these standards of ethical conduct.

Northern Management Services has an O&M (Operations and Maintenance) contract with GSA to maintain three Federal buildings in the Ft. Worth, TX area. A project manager for Northern who assisted in preparing cost proposals for the company, left and went to work for GSA, whereupon he participated in negotiating costs for task orders for projects which he had prepared the cost estimates.

The OIG found that this employee had an "impartiality impairment" and that neither he nor GSA took necessary steps to avoid an appearance of loss of impartiality in the performance of his official duties. The OIG ordered GSA to take immediate steps to address the impartiality impairment which presumably (though not stated) would require someone to take a second look at the negotiation process to ensure that the Government's interests were protected.

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