The main purpose of the ethics program is to prevent conflicts of interest from influencing government decisions. However, when the normal tools of prevention are not successful, enforcement is necessary and can become a tool for future prevention.
Responsibilities of the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO)
The DAEO, acting directly or through other officials, is responsible for assisting the agency in enforcing ethics laws and regulations. To properly assist the agency, the DAEO should work with the Inspector General, employee relations, labor relations, and human resources offices to understand lines of responsibility and authority for disciplinary or corrective action. The DAEO should also understand the penalties for ethics violations and be aware of what safe harbor provisions may be available to employees. Likewise, the DAEO should understand government-wide requirements to disclose waste, fraud, and abuse, as well as violations of criminal law. The DAEO also ensures that the agency has a process for concurrently notifying OGE when the agency refers a potential criminal violation to the Department of Justice.
Key Legal Authorities
PA-16-09: Updated Procedures for Notifying the Office of Government Ethics of Conflict of Interest Referrals to the Department of Justice (PDF)
This program advisory describes the procedures associated with referrals to the Department of Justice (DOJ) of possible violations of criminal conflict of interest laws, announces a revised OGE Form 202 (Notification of Conflict of Interest Referral), provides instructions for the office making the referral to DOJ, and provides instructions for the referring agency DAEO.
96x1: Agency Authority Regarding Investigations and Corrective Action for Ethics Violations (PDF)
An agency has authority under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.106(b) to take corrective action for ethics violations by its employees. An agency must look to its own regulations for authority to conduct investigations into ethics violations.
06x4: Responsibility of Agency Ethics Officials to Report Ethics Violations (PDF)
OGE explains that agency ethics officials have a duty to report possible violations of the ethics rules to the appropriate authorities, including OGE, and do not have a duty to protect employee; lack of knowledge of the ethics rules is not a defense; and an employee is responsible for remembering his ethical obligations or seeking ethics advice.
DO-08-025: New GAO Report; Documenting Ethics Advice (PDF)
OGE strongly encourages agency ethics officials to document ethics advice provided to current and former employees. Additionally, ethics officials should establish close working relationships with their respective Inspector General offices.
For additional, relevant advisories, search the Legal Research Collection
OGE Form 202: Notification of Conflict of Interest Referral
The OGE Form 202 is used to report to OGE any alleged violation of the criminal conflict of interest statutes that agencies refer to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution. Agencies should submit completed forms via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conflict of Interest Prosecution Survey (by statute | by year).
Each year, OGE issues a survey of prosecutions involving the conflict of interest criminal statutes (18 U.S.C. §§ 202-209) and other related statutes. The survey highlights how the Department of Justice enforces the criminal conflict of interest laws, and is a useful resource ethics officials can use to educate employees about how these law apply in real-world situations. Information on the prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys' offices and the Civil Division and Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice is provided to OGE with the assistance of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys at the Department of Justice.
As the supervising ethics office, OGE has insight into the methods, procedures, and practices of over 130 agency ethics programs and seeks to highlight these practices as a resource for improving ethics programs across the executive branch. The following practices are gathered from OGE program reviews, agency responses to Annual Agency Ethics Program Questionnaires and data calls, and OGE summits and conferences. While no single approach is one-size-fits-all, ethics officials may find other agencies’ practices useful to the effective and efficient administration of their own ethics program.
Enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the agency’s Office of Inspector General which delineates responsibilities of each office regarding potential ethics violations.
Incorporate into training real-life examples of federal employees who were held accountable for violating criminal conflict of interest statutes, the Standards of Conduct, and/or agency-specific ethics regulations.
Include sanctions for violating the Standards of Conduct into the agency’s table of disciplinary actions.