Misuse of position was the most common basis for disciplinary actions taken against federal employees for alleged ethics violations in 2018, the Office of Government Ethics has reported.
While the OGE oversees ethics laws and rules in general and oversees compliance with agency responsibilities, each agency is responsible for investigating and potentially disciplining employees for violations.
Forty agencies reported taking a total of 1,077 disciplinary actions, 623 of them involving misuse of position. That includes prohibitions against: using public office for the private gain of themselves, friends, relatives or other associates; using nonpublic information for private gain; use of duty time for other than authorized purposes; and unauthorized use of government property.
Outside activities, with 85, were the next most common specific alleged violation reported in the annual OGE report on the government-wide ethics program, while violations of general provisions accounted for 348.
Certain ethics requirements also may implicate criminal conflict of interest laws. In those cases, the agency must refer the matter to the Justice Department. Penalties can include not only removal but also fines and potential imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the violation. In 2018, 23 agencies made a total of 56 such referrals, while 10 reported taking a total of 18 disciplinary actions based on violations of those laws, all of them based on an alleged violation of one that prohibits taking official action that can affect a personal interest.