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NEWS | Sept. 30, 2015

Rules for Participation in Outside Organizations

By 628 ABW Legal

Many Department of Defense employees, both military and civilians, are involved in community outreach efforts outside of their professional organizations.  Understanding the rules and legal consequences of a DOD employee's involvement in a private company, professional association, non-profit organization, school board, fundraising event or conference is critical.  Navigating the different statutes and nuanced rules relating to participation in an outside organization can be difficult.  This article serves as a quick summary of what a DOD employee can and cannot do while participating in non-federal entities. 

Prior to joining a non-federal entity, all DOD employees must be intimately aware of the non-federal entity's mission and how that mission is accomplished.  DOD employees are banned altogether from joining certain entities like hate groups or groups involved in lobbying.  DOD employees must also be sensitive to whether a position in an organization or event is offered because of their "official position."  A closer look at whether the position is offered because of the DOD employee's status, authority or duties associated with his/her job are required.  For example, calling on a high ranking DoD employee at his/her DoD office to serve in a particular role and not considering any other applicants suggests the organization is seeking the person because of his/her official position.  Assuming a job is not offered because of a DOD employee's official position, a DOD employee may only work in a non-federal organization in a personal, off-duty capacity.  If you file a confidential financial disclosure report (OGE Form 450), you must report any service in a non-federal entity on the OGE Form 450.  Finally, DOD employees may use their military rank and branch of service in connection with their participation in the non-federal entity.  DOD employees are encouraged to support non-federal entities in accordance with these rules.

Equally important to what DOD employees may do are the rules about what employees may not do while supporting a non-federal entity.  DOD employees should avoid recruiting subordinates to join the organization.  A member is banned from using official channels, like official email, to notify others about an organization's activities.  Additionally, it would be inappropriate to use government property or resources to support an organization's activity.  Do not allow the organization to use your official title or organization name (e.g., Director, Base Contracting Office) in connection with a non-federal entity.  DOD employees are not allowed to participate personally and substantially in a particular government matter in which a non-federal entity has a financial interest.  This important conflict of interest provision has criminal consequences if ignored (18 USC 208).  DOD employees need to be mindful that they may not take any action that constitutes an express or implied endorsement by the DOD of a non-federal entity.  This endorsement issue even covers the use of DOD logos.  All DOD employees must understand certain conduct is not permitted when dealing with non-federal entities.

Many DOD employees are involved in outside organizations.  The rules that regulate outside organizations are complex.  Ensuring compliance with these ethical guidelines will protect the interests of the DoD and the employee from potential discipline.  If you have any questions about your participation in an outside organization, please contact the legal office for examination of your particular problem.  Much of this analysis will vary on a case-by-case basis.