Recently, it was brought to our attention that a representative from a non-Federal entity (a private business) attempted to solicit participation of several ARS scientists to provide citations for a web site. Participation required that scientists provide the representative with a vitae and a bibliography of six sources on their subject matter specialties. The information would then be published in a commercial web site, and the scientists were advised that they would receive royalties in return. Such action would effectively make the scientist an employee of the non-Federal entity. The representative of the non-Federal entity was advised that our agency employees were prohibited from participating and asked to refrain from further solicitation within our agencies. Unfortunately, this representative is back and active within USDA.
Possible Ethics Violations
5 CFR 2635.702 - Use of Public Office for Private Gain, specifically (c) - Endorsements - An employee shall not use or permit the use of his Government position or title or any authority associated with his public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise . . .
5 CFR 2635.807 - Teaching, speaking and writing - Employees may engage in paid outside writing, speaking and teaching if the topic of this outside activity is not an ongoing program.
18 U.S.C. Sec. 209 - Supplementing one's salary - Employees cannot receive outside payment that augments their Government salary for doing that for which the Government already pays them.
This matter was previously submitted to Mr. John Surina, (retired – former Director of the USDA Office of Ethics), and much discussion was conducted between him and the representative of the non-Federal entity. Because the non-Federal representative wants employee participation based on knowledge as a result of Government employment, the connection of their public office creates a problem with the Standards of Ethical Conduct described above.
If you are asked to participate in a situation similar to the one described above, please refuse to do so, and bring to the attention of your ethics advisor as soon as possible. Participation in such a situation may be hazardous to your ethics health. Be wary of other such opportunities as they arise (and they will, especially over the internet) and always contact your ethics advisor before agreeing to participate. We will continue to encourage participation in legitimate discourse through established, legal, and non-profit or Government organizations.
If you have questions concerning this matter, please contact your Agency/Area Ethics
Advisor or the USDA Office of Ethics – Science Ethics Branch: