a. Basic obligation of public service (Section 2635.101).
Question: What is the basis for the Ethics Program?
Answer: A collection of statutes, executive orders, and regulations that underscore the notion that public service is a public trust. The expectation is that we will not violate that trust. The criminal bribery and conflict of interest statutes (18 USC § 201 and 202-209, respectively) are the core of the Federal ethics program. These statutes are implemented, in large part, by the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (Standards), 5 CFR part 2635.
Question: Who in the Department is responsible for ensuring that employees know about the content of the Standards?
Answer: The Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for the USDA Ethics Program. The Secretary delegates Department-wide responsibility for the USDA Ethics Program to the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO). The Director, Office of Ethics, serves as the Alternate Agency Ethics Official and is charged with day-to-day program operation and policy development at the Department level. Under Secretaries in the Department mission areas and the Assistant Secretary for Administration are delegated responsibility as Deputy Ethics Officials for the ethics program within their respective organizations. Their task is to further delegate program responsibilities and to ensure the program is implemented, including the briefing of employees about their obligations under the Standards, ethics statutes, and other ethics regulations.
b. Disciplinary and corrective action (Section 2635.106).
Question: May an Agency or staff head direct an employee to remedy a violation of the Standards?
Answer: Yes. Corrective action includes any action necessary to remedy a past violation or prevent a continuing violation of the Standards. Remedies for violations include, but are not limited to, disqualification of an employee from performing specified official duties, divestiture of assets, resignation from outside employment, or reassignment of an employee to a different position. Violations of law are subject to criminal or civil action by the Department of Justice.
Question: May a violation of the Standards result in disciplinary action?
Answer: Yes; however, recommending or taking disciplinary or adverse action is not within the scope of authority of the Office of Ethics. We also have no investigative authority. Our concern is to prevent or remedy violations of the ethics regulations by educating or by directing corrective actions such as are included in the question immediately above.