Mission, Authority, & Key Players

The primary mission of the executive branch ethics program is to prevent conflicts of interest on the part of executive branch employees, by working to ensure that they make impartial decisions based on the public interest, serve as good stewards of public resources, and loyally adhere to the Constitution and laws of the United States.


To achieve this mission, the executive branch ethics program includes the following elements:

  • written, enforceable rules that set the standards for ethical conduct
  • promotion of an ethical culture through ethical leadership
  • a program of educating and counseling employees on their ethical responsibilities
  • a personal financial disclosure system to help detect and resolve potential conflicts of interest
  • support to the officials and institutions that enforce the rules

Key Legal Authorities

  • Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended (5 U.S.C. § 13121, et seq.)
  • 5 C.F.R. part 2638 – Regulations governing the executive branch ethics program
  • 5 C.F.R. part 2634 – Regulations governing the executive branch financial disclosure program
  • 5 C.F.R. part 2635 – The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch
  • 5 C.F.R. part 2640 – Interpretation, exemptions, and waiver guidance concerning 18 U.S.C. § 208 (acts affecting a financial interest)
  • 5 C.F.R. part 2641 – Post-employment conflict of interest restrictions
  • 5 C.F.R. § 2635.105 – Procedures for establishing agency supplemental ethics regulations
  • Executive Orders related to ethics – For text of relevant executive orders, as well as OGE guidance on these orders, please search the Legal Research Search Collection
  • Agency-specific supplemental regulations governing standards of conduct and/or financial holdings – if an agency has such a supplemental regulation, the agency publishes it in the agency's own chapter of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations.

Key Players and Responsibilities

The executive branch ethics program is a shared responsibility that includes OGE, agency heads, ethics officials, employees, supervisors, human resources officials, and Inspectors General as described in ethics regulations (5 C.F.R. part 2638) and outlined in the table below.

As the supervising ethics office, OGE oversees and sets policy for the entire executive branch ethics program (see OGE’s About page to learn more); however, agency heads are responsible to lead the ethics program at their agency and to designate a qualified Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) and Alternate Designated Agency Ethics Official (ADAEO) to implement the program and help the agency manage risk.

Chart of Ethics Roles and Responsibilities

Employee or Entity Key Ethics Responsibilities Regulatory Citation
Agency Head
  • Establish and maintain an effective agency ethics program and foster an ethical culture in the agency.
  • Designate the DAEO and ADAEO and provide sufficient resources to sustain an effective ethics program.
  • Require agency officials to support the DAEO and ADAEO.
  • Enforce government ethics laws and regulations.
5 C.F.R. § 2638.107
Agency Ethics Officials (including the DAEO, ADAEO, and deputy ethics officials) Direct the daily activities of the ethics program. (See the implementing regulation, which includes eight responsibilities that the DAEO or ADAEO may not delegate.) 5 C.F.R. § 2638.104
  • Serve as models of ethical behavior, with a heightened personal responsibility for advancing government ethics.
  • Ensure subordinates are aware of ethical obligations and know how to contact agency ethics officials.
  • Work with agency ethics officials to help resolve conflicts of interest, and enforce government ethics laws and regulations.
5 C.F.R. § 2638.103
Human Resources Officials
  • Notify the DAEO of appointments to and terminations from positions requiring financial disclosure in a timely manner.
  • Coordinate with the DAEO on ethics training and issuance of ethics notices to prospective employees and new supervisors.
5 C.F.R. § 2638.105
  • Act in the public's interest.
  • Avoid losing or appearing to lose impartiality. Refrain from misuse of office for private gain. Serve as good stewards of public resources.
  • Refrain from participating in matters in which they have financial interests.
5 C.F.R. § 2638.102
Inspectors General
  • Give due consideration to OGE requests to investigate possible violations of ethics laws or regulations.
  • Notify OGE of certain referrals to the Department of Justice.
  • Consult with OGE, when necessary, for legal guidance on the application of government ethics laws and regulations.
5 C.F.R. § 2638.106
U.S. Office of Government Ethics Lead and oversee the executive branch ethics program (See the implementing regulation for OGE’s responsibilities.) 5 C.F.R. § 2638.108
The White House
  • Appoint individuals to certain political positions.
  • Hold those individuals accountable.
  • May issue executive orders that implicate ethics.
See, e.g., U.S. Constitution, 5 U.S.C. § 7301

Other Players: Institutional Integrity in the Executive Branch

The Ethics in Government Act charges OGE with leading the effort to prevent conflicts of interest in the executive branch.

OGE undertakes this important prevention mission as part of a larger framework comprising other executive branch agencies and entities whose work also focuses on institutional integrity. In addition to government ethics, this includes:

  • merit system protections in the civil service (MSPB, EEOC)
  • full and open competition in procurement (OFPP, GSA)
  • fiscal controls (OMB, GAO)
  • transparency programs (e.g., FOIA, Open Government initiatives)
  • investigation of waste, fraud, and abuse (OSC, CIGIE)
  • criminal, civil, and administrative enforcement (DOJ)