Love (and Ethics) is in the Air: How the Ethics Rules Apply to Spousal and Other Close Personal Relationships

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2/7/2022

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we thought now would be a great time to review how the ethics rules apply to your spouses and live-in romantic partners.  The criminal statute at 18 U.S.C. § 208 prohibits you from working on Government matters affecting your personal financial interests as well as the financial interests of your spouse.  That means your spouse’s financial interests are considered your financial interests under this statute.  As a result, you must recuse yourself from working on any Government matter having a direct and predictable effect on your spouse’s financial interests.  Under this statute, you must also recuse yourself from working on any Government matter having a direct and predictable effect on your spouse’s compensation or continued employment.

Additionally, the impartiality regulation at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502 prohibits you from working on any Government matter involving specific parties where your spouse’s employer or client is a party or represents a party.  This restriction also applies to any person or organization for whom your spouse is serving, or seeking to serve, as an officer, director, trustee, general partner, agent, consultant, or contractor.

Not married, but have a live-in romantic partner?  Please note that the ethics rules still apply, but are somewhat less restrictive.  For example, under the impartiality rule, you may be limited in your ability to work on certain Government matters affecting the financial interests of a member of your household, including a live-in romantic partner.  You also have what is considered a “covered relationship” with any person who is a member of your household under the impartiality regulation.  Under this provision, you may need to recuse yourself from working on certain Government matters where your live-in romantic partner is a party or represents a party.

If you have any questions concerning this guidance or any other ethics topic, please reach out to an ethics counselor.  Contact information for the Department of the Interior’s Departmental Ethics Office and bureau ethics counselors is available at https://www.doi.gov/ethics/bureau-office-contacts.

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