Recusal Best Practices for DOI Employees

  • All Department of the Interior (DOI) employees and all Special Government Employees of DOI may be required to recuse themselves from a matter in order to avoid a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.

  • Employees are responsible for knowing when recusals are required, but they do not need to make this determination alone. Employees should seek the advice of an agency ethics official when considering whether recusal is appropriate.

  • A recusal is appropriate when a conflict of interest exists between an employee's job duties and financial interests (including interests in future employment) or certain business or personal relationships or outside activities.

  • Employees who think they might need a recusal should seek assistance from an ethics official before commencing work on the matter in question.|

  • Employees are strongly encouraged to document their recusals in writing. Although recusals do not need to be in writing in order to be valid, as a general principle, a written recusal helps clarify the scope of the recusal both for the employee and those who need to be aware of the recusal. An ethics official can assist employees in preparing a written recusal.

  • Once an employee recognizes the need to recuse him- or herself from participating in a particular matter to which he or she has been assigned, the employee should notify the person who assigned the matter. If the employee is responsible for his or her own assignments, the employee should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that he or she does not participate in the matter.

  • If a recusal is necessary or advised, an employee should strongly consider writing a Screening Arrangement and filing it with his ethics office. A screening arrangement should:

    • Be specific about the matter from which the employee is recused;
    • Identify a gatekeeper who will screen incoming phone calls, correspondence and other communications to determine if they are matters from which the employee is recused; and
    • Instruct the gatekeeper to refer matters from which the employee is recused to his or her supervisor or other designated employee. The employee who is assigned the recused employee's work must be free to exercise judgment completely independent from the recused employee in the matter.

  • The recused employee should also notify the appropriate people about their roles in a screening arrangement. Appropriate personnel may include: the employee's immediate supervisor, the employee's personal or administrative assistant, the office receptionist, and coworkers.

  • Recusals are required in several specific situations:

    • When a DOI employee's position would cause him or her to work on a matter that will have a direct and predictable effect on his or her own financial interests or the financial interests of an entity whose interests are imputed to the employee;
    • When a DOI employee is working on a particular matter involving specific parties, a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question the employee's impartiality, and either (1) the matter is likely to have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the employee's household, or (2) the employee knows that a person with whom he or she has a “covered relationship” is or represents a party to the matter;
    • When an employee has received an extraordinary payment from a former employer prior to the employee's entry into federal service;
    • When seeking other employment;
    • When an employee has an arrangement concerning prospective employment;
    • When an employee's participation in a matter would create an appearance problem; and
    • Out of an abundance of caution.

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