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Frequently Asked Questions - Basic Obligation




Question:  What is the point of all this ethics stuff?

Answer:  Thomas Jefferson enunciated the basic principle of public service.  "When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property."  This sentiment has been expressed by numerous others, over time becoming the familiar principle "Pubic service is public trust," which has been formalized in Executive Order 12674.

What this means is that American citizens have a right to have complete confidence in the integrity of their Government.  The way to ensure that integrity is for all employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, laws and ethical principles above private gain.  Because ours is a rules-based system of ethics, public employees fulfill the trust placed in them by adhering to general principles of ethical conduct as well as specific ethical standards -- that is, by obeying the rules.

Question:  What is the basis for the Ethics Program?

Answer: The public trust us to make decisions in the best interest of the public.  A collection of statutes, executive orders, and regulations that underscore the notion that public service is a public trust.  The expectation is that we will not violate that trust.  The criminal bribery and conflict of interest statutes (18 USC § 201 and 202-209, respectively) are the core of the Federal ethics program.  These statutes are implemented, in large part, by the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (Standards), 5 CFR part 2635.

Question:  Who in the Department is responsible for ensuring that employees know about the content of the Standards?

Answer:  The Secretary of Interior is responsible for the DOI Ethics Program.  The Secretary delegates Department wide responsibility for the DOI Ethics Program to the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO).  The Director of the Departmental Ethics Office (DEO) serves as the DAEO and is charged with day-to-day program operation and policy development at the Department level.  Directors of Bureaus are delegated responsibility as Deputy Ethics Officials for the ethics program within their respective organizations.  Their task is to further delegate program responsibilities and to ensure the program is implemented, including the briefing of employees about their obligations under the Standards, ethics statutes, and other ethics regulations.  Each bureau has a Deputy Ethics Counsel (DEC) to manage the individual Bureau Ethics Program.

Question:  May an Agency or staff head direct an employee to remedy a violation of the Standards?

Answer:  Yes. Corrective action includes any action necessary to remedy a past violation or prevent a continuing violation of the Standards.  Remedies for violations include, but are not limited to, disqualification of an employee from performing specified official duties, divestiture of assets, resignation from outside employment, or reassignment of an employee to a different position.  Violations of law are subject to criminal or civil action by the Department of Justice.

Question:  May a violation of the Standards result in disciplinary action?

Answer:  Yes. however, taking disciplinary or adverse action is not within the scope of authority of the Office of Ethics.  We also have no investigative authority.  Our concern is to prevent or remedy violations of the ethics regulations by educating or by directing corrective actions such as are included in the question immediately above.  Section 2635.101


Just financial obligations

Question:  I know that Federal employees must pay their taxes.  Does the requirement extend to debts to private creditors?

Answer:  Yes.  You are required to exhibit an honest intention to fulfill any just financial obligation in a timely manner.  This does not require an Agency to determine the validity or amount of a disputed debt or to collect a debt on the alleged creditor's behalf, however, the Agency is required to process legal judgments that garnish the pay of the employee.  See 5 CFR § 2635.809