Office of Ethics
United States Department of Agriculture

Frequently Asked Questions

IV. Subpart D — Conflicting Financial Interests.


a.    Disqualifying Financial Interests (Section 2635.402).

Question What is meant by "disqualifying"?
 
Answer

You can't do your work without violating the statute prohibiting conflict of interest; therefore, you do not, or are not permitted to, perform your official duties.

 
Question You are a scientist assigned to work at university X. You also are a part-time professor at the university, teaching classes, supervising the work of university students working in your laboratory, and advising doctoral candidates. Your Agency assigns you to review a grant proposal from the university and to recommend whether to make the grant. Is your work with the university a disqualifying financial interest?
 
Answer

Yes. You are an employee of the university, and the interests of the university are imputed to you. If you participate in reviewing the grant proposal, you violate the conflict of interest statute. You must disqualify yourself. Inform your supervisor of your part-time employment with the university and do not participate in the review.

 
Question I plan to retire next month, and I have accepted employment with a company that is a major international purchaser of a specific commodity. Of course, international sales of the commodity is my specialty, which is the reason the company offered me a job. I haven't said anything to my supervisors about accepting the job, and I have continued to advise the Department on issues pertaining to the commodity. My recommendations to the Department are always thoroughly considered, and they are often adopted. Does my situation create a problem?
 
Answer

Yes, for the same reason as in the question above. Your future employer's financial interests are imputed to you, and your official interests affect the future employer's interests. You should take the same steps as the employee in the question above.

 
Question I have been asked by an organization that works closely with my Agency to serve on its board of directors. My only involvement with this organization is through a partnership arrangement it has with my Agency. I would like to remain on the board after I leave the Government next year and will avoid taking any official action regarding the partnership. Am I okay?
 
Answer

Imputed to you are the financial interests of organizations that you serve as an officer, director, trustee, general partner, or employee. If you were only involved in the organization as a private citizen, unrelated to your official duties, you would probably be okay in recusing yourself from other partnership duties. However, here, you would be serving on the board DUE SOLELY to your official duties. Unless such service is specifically required by statute, you have a conflicting financial interest simply by serving on the board because you would be taking official action (serving on the board) in matters in which you have a financial interest (by being a director).

 

b.    Prohibited Financial Interests (Section 2635.403).

Question Are there financial interests that the Department prohibits all employees from having?
 
Answer

No. Each employee's financial interests are evaluated in terms of his or her duties. The interest that would disqualify you may not disqualify an employee in another mission area. If a determination is made to prohibit specific financial holdings for all or any part of the Department's employees, the prohibition will have to be published in the Federal Register and included in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).