New Rule Would Ease Fed Service on Nonprofit Boards

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July 5, 2011; Source: Government Executive | Under a rule change proposed by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), federal employees would have the right to serve as officers and directors of nonprofits without first getting a special waiver. If approved, the new rule would mark the end of a 15-year restriction that made it difficult for federal workers to serve on a nonprofit board or hold any other official position that carried fiduciary responsibilities.

According to Government Executive, the existing rule was meant to prevent federal employees from nonprofit service in ways that might be deemed as a “conflict with their obligation to their agency.” A statement from the Office of Government Ethics characterizes the lifting of the prohibition as both overdue and a reflection of how out of step the federal government is with other sectors. “In an era when public-private partnerships are promoted as a positive way for government to achieve its objectives more efficiently, ethics officials find it difficult to explain and justify to agency employees why a waiver is required for official board services that have been determined by the agency to be proper,” OGE wrote. “The potential for a real conflict of interest is too remote or inconsequential to affect the integrity of an employee’s services under these circumstances.”

The Obama administration is among those that have been pushing for the rule change. It had argued that the restriction made it especially difficult to recruit scientists to federal positions. In August 2010, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry wrote to the OGE that the restrictions “act as a barrier to employees achieving professional stature in their respective fields, which may discourage scientists and professionals from considering federal employment. Federal scientists and professionals are hampered in their ability to provide the best possible advice and service to their respective agencies.”  The comment period for the new rule ended earlier this week.—Bruce S. Trachtenberg