Fedweek

Federal employees can help others with submitting routine applications and other forms to government agencies but should be mindful of a restriction against use of their federal position to influence a decision, the Office of Government Ethics has said.

The guidance focused on a prohibition against employees “acting as an agent or attorney, with or without compensation, before the executive and judicial branches in particular matters in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.” In order to act as an agent or attorney, for that purpose, it said, a person has to: have actual or apparent authority, make a direct communication have an intent to influence.

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That restriction does not apply to employees submitting routine forms and applications on their own behalf, the guidance says, and the same applies to similar actions on behalf of another person “if the submission consists of factual information and seeks routine action involving either no or minimal discretion. Such submissions do not involve an appreciable element of dispute and therefore do not amount to an intent to influence.”

It gave as examples signing an income tax return of another person as the preparer, filing a registration statement with the SEC on behalf of an organization, and assisting another person with an application for a passport or Social Security card.

However, it added: “The initial submission of the applications or forms described above on behalf of another person may not be the end of the process. If additional communications with the government are required regarding those submissions, they may involve arguing the merits of a request and might be made with the intent to influence. In such situations, an employee should be prepared for another individual, who is not also an employee, to engage in such communications.”

It said employees should contact their agency ethics offices if there is any question of a possible violation.