Frequently Asked Questions - Impartiality

A. Personal and Business Relationships

Question:  Two months ago, I left employment with a firm competing for a contract with my Agency.  I have completely severed my ties with the company.  I transferred my 401k to my own broker.  My duties include recommending the winner of the contract.  Will I have a problem if I recommend the winner of the contract?

Answer:  An employee has a "covered relationship" with an employer he/she has left within the last year.  Even though you have completely severed your relationship with the company, you may not recommend the contract winner.  A reasonable person with knowledge of these facts could question your impartiality.  Your Agency head or other ethics official with appropriate delegated ethics authority may, however, authorize you to participate in the matter if deemed necessary.  The criteria for the authorization is set forth in this section of the Standards.  See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502

B.  Impartiality in Performance Official Duties

Question:  Are there other rules besides the Conflicts of Financial Interest Statute?

Answer:  Yes.  In addition to the criminal statute, there is a regulatory rule, referred to as "Impartiality in Performing Official Duties," that covers certain other types of conflicts of interest.

Question:  What's the difference between the criminal rule and the regulatory rule?

Answer:  Aside from the obvious difference in penalties (a violation of the regulatory rule is not a crime), the impartiality rule has two significant differences from the criminal conflict of interest statute:  first, it applies to fewer types of matters, and second, it holds you responsible for the financial interests of a greater number of people.  It doesn't apply to all matters, just "a particular matter involving specific parties," such as a contract, grant, or agreement--in other words, a transaction of some kind.  A program is not a particular matter involving specific parties (although the contracts that support the program are).

On the other hand, most of DOI's business is done through contracts, grants, agreements, or permit/lease, so the rule will often be in consideration.  If it does apply, you can have a conflict arising from the financial interests of a member of your household (not just your spouse or a minor child).  Not only that, but if a person with whom you have a "covered relationship" is or represents a party to such a matter, then the rule applies.

Question:  So what's a "covered relationship"?

Answer:  You have a "covered relationship" with:

  • a person with whom you have or seek a business, contractual or other financial relationship
  • a member of your household or with whom you have a close personal relationship
  • a person for whom your spouse, parent or dependent child serves as an officer, director, trustee, general partner, agent, attorney, consultant, contractor or employee
  • any person for whom you have, within the last year served as officer, director, trustee, general partner, agent, attorney, consultant, contractor or employee, or
  • any organization in which you are an active participant.

Question:  Are there any exceptions to the rule?

AnswerDOI may waive the impartiality rule, but you must seek approval from your supervisor and Ethics Advisor.