Frequently Asked Questions

Office of General Counsel

USU Courtyard

Frequently Asked Ethics Questions

Awards and Honorary Degrees

An employee may accept gifts, other than cash or an investment interest, with an aggregate market value of $200 or less if such gifts are a bona fide award or incident to a bona fide award that is given for meritorious public service or achievement by a person who does not have interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties or by an association or other organization the majority of whose members do not have such interests.

Gifts with an aggregate market value in excess of $200 and awards of cash or investment interests offered by such persons as awards or incidents of awards that are given for these purposes may be accepted upon a written determination and approval by the Designated Agency Ethics Official.

Conflict of Interest

Government employees are prohibited by Federal criminal law from participating personally and substantially in a particular matter that will affect certain financial interests. Those include the financial interests of:

  • the employee
  • the employee's spouse or minor child
  • the employee's general partner
  • an organization in which the employee serves as an officer, director, trustee, general partner or employee, and
  • a person with whom the employee is negotiating for or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment.

There are a number of ways in which an employee may deal with a potential conflict of interest. The employee may simply not participate in the matter that would pose the conflict. This is called "recusal." The employee may also obtain a waiver from the agency, sell off or "divest" the conflicting interest, or resign from the conflicting position. Which remedy is appropriate will depend upon the particular circumstances; contact the ethics office.

Frequent Flyer Miles and Promotional Items

Federal employees (military and civilian) are authorized to keep promotional items for personal use received as a result of traveling at government expense if the item:

  1. is available to the public under the same terms and conditions, and
  2. can be accepted at no additional cost to the government.

The term "promotional item" includes, among other things, frequent flyer miles, travel upgrades, and access to carrier VIP clubs. This means that DoD personnel may accrue and use frequent flyer mileage and travel benefits for personal use.

Voluntary. A traveler may keep payments from a carrier for voluntarily vacating a transportation seat. However, no additional expenses (per diem or miscellaneous reimbursable) may be paid as a result of the traveler's delay. Additional travel expenses incurred as a result of voluntarily giving up a seat are the traveler's financial responsibility. [Please note, you cannot give up your seat voluntarily if it will cause the traveler to fail to arrive at the place of duty at the required time].

Involuntarily. If a traveler is involuntarily denied boarding on flight, compensation for the denied seat belongs to the Government (59 Comp. Gen. 203 (1980)).


A DoD employee who uses or permits the use of his military grade or who includes or permits the inclusion of his title or position as one of several biographical details given to identify himself in connection with teaching, speaking or writing, and who has not been authorized by appropriate Agency authority to present that material as the Agency's position must make a disclaimer if the subject of the teaching, speaking or writin

  • a. The disclaimer should expressly state that the views presented are those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its Components. For example: "the opinions or assertions contained herein are the private ones of the author/speaker and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Department of Defense or the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences."
  • b. Where a disclaimer is required for an article, book or other writing, the disclaimer shall be printed in a reasonably prominent position in the writing itself;
  • c. Where a disclaimer is required for a speech or other oral presentation, the disclaimer may be given orally provided it is given at the beginning of the oral presentation.

Gifts Between Employees

Executive branch employees may not give a gift to an official superior nor can an employee accept a gift from another employee who receives less pay, except in certain circumstances. On an occasional basis, the following individual gifts to a supervisor are permitted:

  • gifts other than cash that are valued at no more than $10
  • food and refreshments shared in the office
  • personal hospitality in the employee's home that is the same as that customarily provided to personal friends
  • gifts given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality that is customary to the occasion, and
  • transferred leave, provided that it is not to an immediate superior

On certain special infrequent occasions a gift may be given that is appropriate to that occasion. These occasions include

  • events of personal significance such as marriage, illness or the birth or adoption of a child, or
  • occasions that terminate the subordinate-official superior relationship such as retirement, resignation or transfer

Employees may solicit or contribute, on a strictly voluntary basis, nominal amounts for a group gift to an official superior on a special infrequent occasion and occasionally for items such as food and refreshments to be shared among employees at the office.

Reference: 5 C.F.R. §§ 2635.301-304.

Gifts From Outside Sources

Executive branch employees are subject to restrictions on the gifts that they may accept from sources outside the Government. Generally they may not accept gifts that are given because of their official positions or that come from certain interested sources ("prohibited sources"). Prohibited sources include persons (or an organization made up of such persons) who

  • are seeking official action by, are doing business or seeking to do business with, or are regulated by the employee's agency, or
  • have interests that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.

In addition, an employee can never solicit or coerce the offering of a gift, or accept a gift in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act. Nor can an employee accept gifts so frequently that a reasonable person might think that the employee was using public office for private gain.

There are a number of exceptions to the ban on gifts from outside sources. These allow an employee to accept

  • a gift valued at $20 or less, provided that the total value of gifts from the same person is not more than $50 in a calendar year
  • a gift motivated solely by a family relationship or personal friendship
  • a gift based on an employee's or his spouse's outside business or employment relationships, including a gift customarily provided by a prospective employer as part of bona fide employment discussions
  • a gift provided in connection with certain political activities
  • gifts of free attendance at certain widely attended gatherings (see below for form and instructions), provided that the agency has determined that attendance is in the interest of the agency
  • modest refreshments (such as coffee and donuts), greeting cards, plaques and other items of little intrinsic value
  • discounts available to the public or to all Government employees, rewards and prizes connected to competitions open to the general public.

Offer (Gift) of Free Attendance to a Widely Attended Gathering (WAG)

An employee may accept an unsolicited offer of free attendance from the sponsor of a widely attended gathering when an agency designee makes the proper findings and approves.  A widely attended gathering is one where a large number of persons with a diversity of views or interests are expected to be present and there will be an opportunity to exchange ideas and views with other attendees.  If the agency designee approves the event to be widely attended, believes your attendance at the event is in USU’s interests, and determines your attendance outweighs any appearance or potential influence concerns, you may accept free attendance.  However, you don’t need approval to accept free attendance from the sponsor of the event if you are being designated to speak in your official capacity.  See WAG Guidance for more details. To request an ethics review of an offer of free attendance of a widely attended gathering, please complete in Adobe PDF our Widely Attended Gathering Request form.

There are other exceptions, including exceptions for awards and honorary degrees, certain discounts and other benefits, attendance at certain social events, and meals, refreshments and entertainment in foreign countries.

These exceptions are subject to some limitations on their use. For example, an employee can never solicit or coerce the offering of a gift. Nor can an employee use exceptions to accept gifts on such a frequent basis that a reasonable person would believe that the employee was using public office for private gain.

If an employee has received a gift that cannot be accepted, the employee may return the gift or pay its market value. If the gift is perishable (e.g. a fruit basket or flowers) and it is not practical to return it, the gift may, with approval, be given to charity or shared in the office.

Reference: 5 C.F.R. §§ 2635.201-205.

Government Travel paid for by a Non-Federal Source

USUHS may accept reimbursement from a non-Federal source with respect to attendance of the employee at a meeting or similar function to which the employee has been authorized to attend in an official capacity on behalf of USUHS. [See Title 41 Chapter 301 of the Code of Federal Regulations.] In order to do so, USUHS personnel must click on the "Non-Federal Source Form" link, fill out the form, and submit it to the USUHS Designated Agency Ethics Official in the General Counsel's office at least one week prior to the scheduled travel.

USUHS personnel may not personally accept reimbursement for travel expenses. The employee may accept a check made out to USUHS and turn it over to the USUHS Finance Office as soon as practicable, but no later than 60 days from the last day of travel.

USUHS personnel may accept travel expenses in kind² as long as it is approved in advance and the benefits are comparable to those offered other similarly situated invitees (excluding first class airfare which may not be accepted).

Within five working days of travel completion, the USUHS employee submits a travel voucher with FMG for all travel expenses not reimbursed in kind and use split disbursement to pay their travel card bill. Within five working days of travel completion, the USUHS employee notifies the Non-Federal source.

Any expenses not reimbursed by the non-Federal source will be funded by the employee's department. If reimbursement has not occurred within 30 working days of travel, your department's Administrative Officer should send a reminder to the Non-Federal source. If payment has not been made within 60 working days of travel, your department's Administrative Officer should contact FMG for assistance.

USUHS personnel shall not solicit payment from a Non-Federal source. However, after receipt of an invitation from a non-Federal source to attend a meeting or similar function, the USUHS or the employee may inform the non-Federal source that the agency may accept payment. Attach the proffer letter or E-mail to the request as it shows that the funds were not solicited by the Government employee.

Travel on Grant Money. USUHS personnel seeking to use grant funds to pay for travel should complete the Grant Travel Request Form: Grant Travel Request. In order to use grant funds to pay for travel, there must be a travel line on the grant's budget. Please be sure to indicate the name (not just the acronym) and number of the grant. If both grant funds and non-federal source funds will be used to pay for the trip, both the Non-Federal Source form (link above) and Grant Travel Request form must be completed.

Unofficial Travel. When on leave, USUHS personnel may accept reimbursement for travel expenses from a non-Federal source so long as it is not from those who have or seek business with DoD or from those whose business interests are affected by DoD functions. The employee should discuss any such circumstances with an ethics counselor. An approved outside activity request may be required.

¹Non-Federal Source means any person or entity other than the Government of the United States.

²Payment in kind means transportation, food, lodging, or other travel-related services provided by a non-Federal source instead of monetary payments to the Federal agency for these services. Payment in kind also includes waiver of any fees that a non-Federal source normally collects from meeting attendees (e.g., registration fees).


Executive branch employees are no longer subject to the prohibitions on the acceptance of honoraria contained in the Ethics Reform Act of 1989. Thus, you may accept an honorarium for teaching, speaking, or writing so long as it does not involve Government time (must be done during authorized leave or after working hours) and you do not use Government equipment. Be advised, however, that you may not accept an honorarium if the subject matter is DoD/USUHS policy or involves information that is not available to the public.

Note, if you are not permitted to accept an honorarium (a talk given on Government time for example) you may not direct that the money be given to some other entity not even a charity or other nonprofit organization. As with all other outside activities, you must fill out an outside activity form (See "Outside Activities" section below) and receive approval prior to commencing the activity.

Impartiality in Performing Official Duties

Employees are required to consider whether their impartiality may be questioned whenever their involvement in a particular matter involving specific parties might affect certain personal and business relationships. A pending case, contract, grant, permit, license or loan are some examples of particular matters involving specific parties. If such a matter would have an effect on the financial interest of a member of the employee's household, or if a person with whom the employee has a "covered relationship" [see below] is or represents a party to such a matter, then the employee must consider whether a reasonable person would question the employee's impartiality in the matter. If the employee concludes that there would be an appearance problem, then the employee should not participate in the matter unless authorized by the agency. The employee should make full disclosure to his supervisor and discuss the matter with an ethics official. An employee has a "covered relationship" with the following persons:

  • a person with whom the employee has or seeks a business, contractual or other financial relationship,
  • a person who is a member of the employee's household or with whom the employee has a close personal relationship,
  • a person for whom the employee's spouse, parent or dependent child serves as an officer, director, trustee, general partner, agent, attorney, consultant, contractor or employee, and
  • any person for whom the employee has within the last year served as officer, director, trustee, general partner, agent, attorney, consultant, contractor or employee, or any organization in which the employee is an active participant.

An employee may have a concern that circumstances other than those expressly described above may raise a question regarding the employee's impartiality. In such a situation, the employee should discuss the matter with an ethics official.

Outside Activities

USUHS policy requires that all employees receive approval prior to engaging in any outside activity. This requirement applies to all military officers, enlisted, students, and federal civilian employees. It encompasses part or full time employment, "moonlighting", teaching or speaking engagements in a personal capacity, volunteering, chairing or participating in non-profit or for-profit organizations/associations, etc. When in doubt if this form applies to you, please come speak to an ethics counselor in the Office of General Counsel at USU for guidance on your specific situation.

Civilians and Military Officers please complete and submit the following:

Students and Military Enlisted, please complete and submit the following:

For questions regarding form routing, please contact OGC at (301) 295-3028 or by email.

Once approved, a copy of the form will be returned to the employee for the employee's records.

Professional Organizations and Associations

If the Government employee is asked to serve as a member of the governing board, however, the employee may not do so on Government time or using Government equipment. DoD Directive 5500.7-R prohibits DoD employees from participating in the management of non-Federal entities while on Government time whether compensated or not. If a University employee wishes to serve on the board of any non-Federal entity, he or she must first receive approval of this outside activity or liaison request.

Liaison Requests

USUHS President may appoint DoD personnel as liaisons to represent DoD interests to Non-Federal Entities (NFEs) when there is a significant and continuing DoD interest in such representation. JER 3-201. DoD personnel perform the representation as an official duty and may discuss matters of mutual interest. Liaisons must inform the NFE that their opinions do not bind DoD or any of its components. DoD may not use appropriated funds to purchase individual memberships in NFEs. See 5 U.S.C. § 5946. Fiscal laws apply: Liaison activities must satisfy an authorized agency purpose. Liaisons may not participate in management (internal, day-to-day management) or control of the NFE, but may serve on advisory committees. Liaisons do not have a conflict of interest because they represent only DoD, with no fiduciary duty to the NFE. Because they act in their official capacity, personnel may use Government time, resources, and personnel to perform that function. They may also use their title, position or organization name. USUHS personnel seeking a Liaison appointment need to complete the Request for Liaison Designations Form.

Seeking Other Employment

An executive branch employee may not participate in any particular Government matter that will affect the financial interests of a person or entity with whom he is seeking employment. An employee is considered to be seeking employment if:

  • the employee is engaged in actual negotiations for employment;
  • a potential employer has contacted the employee about possible employment and the employee makes a response other than rejection; or
  • the employee has contacted a prospective employer about possible employment (unless the sole purpose of the contact is to request a job application or if the person contacted is affected by the performance of the employee's duties only as part of an industry).

An employee is considered no longer seeking employment if:

  • either the employee or the prospective employer rejects the possibility of employment and all discussions of possible employment have ended, or
  • two months have elapsed since the employee's dispatch of an unsolicited resume and the employee has received no expression of interest from the prospective employer.

In some cases, you may be authorized by an agency official to participate in particular matters from which you would otherwise have to be disqualified due to your job search. If a search firm or other intermediary is involved, the employee is not disqualified unless the intermediary identifies the prospective employer to the employee. Reference: 18 U.S.C. §208; 5 C.F.R. §§ 2635.601-606.

Serving as an Expert Witness

An employee shall not serve, other than on behalf of the United States, as an expert witness, with or without compensation, in any proceeding before a court or agency of the United States in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest, unless the employee's participation is authorized by the agency. 5 C.F.R. § 2635.805. Note: if the United States does not have an interest as described above, an employee may serve as an expert witness but must fill out an outside activity request (USUHS Form 1004) prior to accepting any offer.