Basic Obligation of Public Service

The Foundation For Ethical Behavior
Executive Order 12674

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 "Public service is a public trust."

To ensure public confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government, Executive Order 12674 (as amended) forms the framework for the ethical behavior required and expected of all Federal employees.  As a condition of public service, you are expected to adhere to these fundamental principles of ethical behavior:

  • Public service is a public trust, requiring you to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain.
  • You shall not hold financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty.
  • You shall not engage in financial transactions using non-public Government information or allow improper use of such information to further any private interest.
  • You shall not, except pursuant to such reasonable exceptions as are provided by regulation, solicit or accept any gift or other item of monetary value from any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by your agency, or whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of your duties.
  • You shall make no unauthorized commitments or promises of any kind purporting to bind the Government.
  • You shall put forth an honest effort in the performance of your duties.
  • You shall not engage in outside employment or activities, including seeking or negotiating for employment, that conflict with your official Government duties and responsibilities.
  • You shall disclose waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities.
  • You shall satisfy in good faith your obligations as citizens, including all just financial obligations, especially those such as Federal, state, or local taxes that are imposed by law.
  • You shall adhere to all laws and regulations that provide equal opportunities for all Americans regardless of race, religion, color, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), parental status, national origin, age, disability, family medical history or genetic information, political affiliation, and military service.
  • You shall not use your public office for private gain.
  • You shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual.
  • You shall protect and conserve Federal Property and shall not use it for other than authorized activity.
  • You shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that you are violating the law, the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (5 C.F.R. § part 2635), DOI Supplemental ethics regulations, or Executive Order 12674.

A collection of statutes, executive orders, and regulations underscore the notion that public service is a public trust.  The criminal bribery and conflict of interest statutes (18 U.S.C.§§ 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 C.F.R. part 2635, and the Supplemental Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Department of the Interior (DOI Supplemental Standards), 5 C.F.R part 3501.

Violations of ethics laws are subject to criminal or civil action by the Department of Justice. Violations of the Standards or DOI Supplemental Standards may result in disciplinary or adverse action.  Accordingly, employees are strongly encouraged to consult with an ethics counselor before embarking on an activity if they have any question about the ethical propriety of that action.

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