A Quick Reminder About Ethics in Emergency Situations

Last edited 09/26/2023
Life preserver ring on pier

Emergency situations like wildfires, natural disasters, illness, and unexpected personal crises often occur when least expected. It is our hope that emergency situations are infrequent and have only a limited impact on the employees of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). However, when emergency situations do occur, please know that the ethics rules continue to apply to all DOI employees. These ethics rules can be difficult to navigate, especially when faced with an emergency.

The Departmental Ethics Office (DEO) is here to assist you in working through ethics issues that may arise during emergency situations. The DEO has created specific guidance in the form of FAQs to assist in explaining the ethics rules in emergency situations, specifically those concerning gifts from outside sources and gifts between employees. These FAQs can be found HERE. In addition, the DEO has created a microlearning video, found HERE and on the DOI Ethics App, that discusses the ethics restrictions applicable to crowdfunding campaigns that may be launched in response to an emergency situation.

As a brief reminder, a gift is anything that has monetary value and federal employees may not solicit or accept a gift from a prohibited source, or that has been given to them because of their official position, unless an exception applies. Within the workplace, federal employees generally may not give a gift to a person who is above them in their supervisory chain, they may not solicit donations to buy gifts for a supervisor, and they may not accept a gift from a subordinate or another employee who receives less pay, unless any exception applies. For more information on the ethics rules concerning gifts, please click HERE. Please be aware that other ethics issues may arise during emergency situations, including conflicts of interest and impartiality concerns, as well as misuse of position.

If you are concerned that your proposed course of action may violate your personal ethics obligations, we recommend that you refrain from acting or accepting a gift until you have had a chance to seek guidance from an ethics official.

If you have any questions concerning this, or any other ethics topic, please reach out to the DEO. Our contact information, as well as contact information for specific bureau ethics officials, can be found HERE.

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