February 10, 2015
What happened with the GSA in Vegas stymies federal workers
The Washington Post reports: When federal employees get together for training and meetings, fancy lunches aren’t on the menu anymore. In fact, food of any kind — tuna fish sandwiches, green salad, oatmeal cookies — can no longer be served by the government. Even coffee is off-limits.
Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies say they can no longer travel to academic conferences to present their research.
And mental-health workers at military hospitals say they are in danger of losing their licenses because they can’t attend refresher courses.
Three years after the Obama administration clamped down on travel and training in response to the uproar over a Las Vegas conference where hundreds of federal workers partied for four days at taxpayer expense, the restrictions are taking an unanticipated toll. Employees at a wide range of agencies say the rules are gumming up the machinery of government.
While the government has not released data on how much agencies spent on travel and conferences before the crackdown, White House officials say the restrictions have saved close to $3 billion and ensured that taxpayers are not paying for more boondoggles.
But these officials are also acknowledging that agencies have become too rigid. Last month, the White House issued new instructions giving agencies more flexibility “to reduce burdens and streamline the process” for employees to travel and attend conferences, said Jamal Brown, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. These changes include easing the spending caps on some “mission critical” travel and allowing employees to seek pre-approval for a list of conferences, rather than before each one.
October 21, 2013
Contract attorney faces felony overbilling case, allegedly claimed over 24 hours on 80 work days
An Iowa lawyer is facing felony charges after allegedly obtaining nearly $178,000 in improper payments, between 2007 and 2011, for his work as a contract attorney for the state public defenders office.
Ney McDaniel, 60, is charged with theft and fraudulent practice concerning his work in Clay County, reports Radio Iowa.
An audit found that McDaniel claimed to have put in more than 24 hours of work on 80 different days, the station says. Because the state contract payment system is focused on specific matters, rather than individual lawyers, special efforts are needed to figure out how many hours of work an individual has claimed per day, explained State Auditor Mary Mosiman. After the McDaniel investigation, a statewide review was conducted of work by outside lawyers for the public defender and the contracts of four other attorneys were terminated.
McDaniel and his lawyer didn't respond to requests for comment by the station.
June 20, 2013
New Conference Spending Guidance Discourages Lavish 'Social Components'
At a time when overspending on agency conferences continues to make headlines, the Obama administration has fleshed out its guidance to help event planners balance mission needs with cost-cutting imperatives, assuring employees that it has not called for a moratorium on professional gatherings.
“As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical for each agency to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in government operations,” the Office of Management and Budget said in an “alert” to chief financial officers dated May 28 and posted June 3. “Given the unique travel and conference needs of each agency, there are circumstances in which physical collocation is necessary to complete the mission.”
The guidance builds on a May 2012 OMB memorandum that required a 30 percent reduction in travel costs from 2010 levels through 2016; set up new internal controls that require senior management approval of conferences above a certain threshold; and required public reporting of conferences costing more than $100,000. OMB has since worked the American Society of Association Executives on more-detailed protocols and best practices, among them that “events should not include excessive or lavish social components,” the new guidance says.
June 05, 2013
More on IG Report on IRS Conference Spending
Some 2,600 Internal Revenue Service managers gathered in Anaheim, Calif., in August 2010 were treated to $50,000 worth of comic videos and $135,000 worth of guest speakers, one of whom collected $17,000 to paint portraits of famous personages on stage, an audit found. The two-day, $4.1 million event staged at Hilton and Marriott hotels by the IRS’ Small Business/Self Employed Division was authorized according to procedure by deputy commissioners and paid for with unused funds from a hiring initiative in the agency’s enforcement budget, according to the audit released Tuesday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
The Anaheim event titled “Leading Into the Future” was one among 225 IRS conferences from fiscal 2010 to 2012 costing some $48.6 million, TIGTA found, and took place before an Obama administration crackdown on conference spending that began in 2011.
“TIGTA determined that the IRS did not use available internal personnel to assist in searching for the most cost-effective location as required,” the report said. “Instead, SB/SE Division management approached two non governmental event planners to identify a suitable off-site location for the conference,” planners who were given a $133,000 commission based on room costs. “These two planners were not under contract with the IRS,” TIGTA said. “Hence they had no incentive to negotiate a favorable room rate for the IRS.”
May 10, 2013
Bill Proposes to Lift Ban on Federal Conferences in Resort Towns
A bipartisan group of House members from Nevada want to eliminate bans on federal agencies holding conferences in casinos or resort locations. The bill—proposed by Republican Reps. Mark Amodei and Joe Heck, and Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford—says such prohibitions are counterproductive and unfairly target areas with high numbers of resort and vacation locations.
The lawmakers say agencies are moving to more expensive venues because they want to “avoid any stigma associated with the ‘resort or ‘casino’ name,” even when these sites may actually provide federal agencies and taxpayers a better deal. “These prohibitions emphasize optics over real fiscal restraint,” Amodei said in a statement.
The proposed legislation comes a little more than a year after revelations the General Services Administration dropped $820,000 on a 2010 training conference in Las Vegas. Several agency executives were dismissed or resigned from their positions in the aftermath of the scandal, including former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, and agencies across government tightened their travel and conference spending.
Some agencies, including those within the Agriculture, Justice and Homeland Security departments, have implemented formal bans prohibiting travel to resort locations.
January 08, 2013
Second VA Official Resigns After Release of OIG Report on Conference Overspending
Government Exec reports:
Another Veterans Affairs Department official has resigned in the aftermath of a scathing inspector general’s report on poor oversight of spending on two training conferences held in Orlando, Fla., in 2011.
A VA spokeswoman on Tuesday partially confirmed press reports that Alice Muellerweiss, dean of the VA’s Learning University, left on Friday, and that Tonya Deanes, associate deputy assistant secretary for VA’s Office of Human Resource Management, was reassigned to other duties. The two, along with John Sepúlveda, the assistant secretary for human resources and administration who resigned in late September, were named in the IG report released in October. It said they failed to provide proper oversight in the planning and execution of the two conferences and that “this lack of proper oversight resulted in imprudent expenditures” by senior employees, conference planners and other human resources employees.
“As recommended in the OIG report, VA has taken action to implement policies that strengthen oversight of training conferences, improve accountability, and safeguard taxpayer dollars,” said the new VA statement, which did not use the employees’ names.
October 10, 2012
President Signs New Government Charge Card Bill
Gov Exec reports that the President signed a bill into law Friday that creates stricter rules for federal employees using government charge cards. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced the 2012 Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act in February 2011, and it cleared Congress during the final minutes of lawmakers’ session in late September. Grassley worked on the legislation with Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
In a statement, Grassley said the legislation was created to restore the public’s trust in government spending.
July 16, 2012
Bill Aimed at Cutting Conference Spending May Not Save Money in Long Run
A Government Executive article states that the bill introduced after news broke of GSA's extravagent conference spending in 2010, may not save money. The bill, introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., places spending caps on conferences, but would potentially cause a shift in spending to telecommunication and computer technologies to compensate for the downturn in travel budgets.
April 06, 2012
Emphasizing Public Benefit of Whistleblowers
The Government Accountability Project argues that better whistleblower policies might have prevented the 9/11 attacks:
One month before 9/11, instructors at a Minnesota flight school call the FBI. Among other suspicious happenings, the most unusual "student" they have ever encountered just plopped down thousands in cash to learn to fly a 747, claiming his only purpose was "ego-boosting." Agents in the Minneapolis FBI Office immediately confirm the information and seek permission to search by warning FBI Headquarters in over 60 emails and frantic telephone calls that "this is a guy who could fly into the World Trade Center." Although the 'Director of Central Intelligence' is briefed within days with a presentation titled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly", neither the FBI or CIA staff does anything until after 9/11. Right after the attacks, however, the officials quickly cover-up these pre 9/11 lapses -- actions hastened by internal repression.
This wasn't the first lapse. In the years before 9/11, an FAA "Red Team" warns that it breaches airport security 90 percent of the time, but is censored from writing its findings and banned from retesting. The same Logan Airport gate exploited by the 9/11 hijackers had flunked just months before. After the attacks, the government grounds and reassigns the Red Team leader (a whistleblower) to remedial duties.
April 03, 2012
GSA Head resigns over excessives conference spending
Multiple news outlets have reported on the resignation of Martha Johnson, her deputy, but not before firing two senior GSA officials over a 2010 GSA Western Regions Conference, held in Los Vegas. Following an IG investigation, it was found that “many of the expenditures on this conference were excessive and wasteful, and that in many instances GSA followed neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending.” To read the GSA IG Report: Download GSA IG Report 2012.
- GovExec articles: http://m.govexec.com/management/2012/04/lavish-conference-costs-top-gsa-officials-their-jobs/41651/?oref=top-story and http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2012/04/report-details-excessive-and-wasteful-conference-spending-gsa/41657/?oref=river
- Washington Post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gsa-chief-resigns-amid-reports-of-excessive-spending/2012/04/02/gIQABLNNrS_story.html
November 20, 2011
Early Holiday Dismissals
With Thanksgiving approaching, it may be worth reviewing a GAO decision that discusses the propriety of allowing employees to leave work early. A 2006 Army Lawyer article discussed the issue in depth.
November 15, 2011
Presidential Executive Order: PROMOTING EFFICIENT SPENDING
On Nov. 9, 2011, the President signed an executive order to promote efficient spending in the Executive Branch. See EO at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/11/09/executive-order-promoting-efficient-spending. The EO is part of the Campaign to Cut Waste, and coincided with the announcement of the 2011 SAVE Award finalist. See WH press release: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/11/09/we-cant-wait-president-obama-sign-executive-order-cut-waste-and-promote-.
Within 45 days, agencies must develop plans to reduce combined costs in the following areas to 20 percent below Fiscal Year 2010 levels by Fiscal Year 2013.
- Reduce Spending on Travel and Conferences.
- Cut Duplicative and Unnecessary Employee Information Technology Devices
- End Unnecessary Printing and Put It Online
- Limit Motor Vehicles
- Stop Swag – or Government Promotional Handouts
October 31, 2011
DOJ IG revises Conference "muffin" report
As a result of the responses and clarifications to the September IG report suggesting that DOJ approved and paid for $16.80 muffins at a 2009 conferences, the DOJ IG revised and reissued the report, superceding its prior report. While the clarifications corrected the factual misstatements that the muffins at the given conference were $16.80 each, it still concludes that attention must be given to reducing excessing conference costs. See DOJ revised report: http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/plus/a1143.pdf; and GovExec article: http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=49168&dcn=e_gvet.
October 03, 2011
Allegation: SEC Paid Improper Commuting Expenses
In an unusual move, first reported by Reuters in May, the SEC decided to offer [Henry Hu, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin] a compensation package that designated his hometown of Austin, Texas as his "duty station."
In doing so, it made him eligible to receive thousands of dollars a month in per diem payments toward his meals and long-term stays in a Marriott-owned apartment in Chevy Chase, Maryland, as well as flights back to Austin.
The package drew criticism from many staffers within the SEC, in part because many other employees who live in other cities often pay their own way.
Kotz's report found that the SEC spent about $120,000 to cover Hu's housing, meals and airfare through his tenure, in addition to $314,198.26 for his salary.
Hu was hired on a temporary basis through a special arrangement with the University of Texas known as an Intergovernmental Personnel Act assignment, or IPA.
IPAs are often used by the government, particularly in recruiting academics. Generally, the employee will work for the government for a limited time. In exchange, the government will often pay for a portion of the person's salary and benefits.
The Office of Personnel Management's guidelines do allow federal agencies to give employees a per diem allowance, but those allowances should only be for short-term assignments.
October 02, 2011
Washington Post Ombudsman's Take on Bogus $16 Muffin Story
Belatedly, this morning the Washington Post 's ombudsman looks into the Post's poor reporting on the Department of Justice conference spending story. He notes that DOJ spent $14.74 per person per day on all refreshments, a whole two cents above the limit of $14.76 per day. Since no one except green eyeshade types is going to get too excited about a two cents overage, rather than report the facts, the Post apparently decided to sex it up by going with a transparently inaccurate story about $16 muffins.
He includes this quote:
“Yes, we should have called Hilton,” said Barbara Vobejda, Markon’s editor. “While it does not excuse our failure to call, I can say that we did not realize until late that night on deadline which hotel hosted which conference; we did not necessarily feel the hotels had done anything wrong; and none of several editors who were involved in the story thought to suggest that we get comment from each of the hotels mentioned. That, in hindsight, was a mistake.”
Calling the Hilton would have been sound journalism, but it should not have been necessary. The numbers the Post went with were dubious on their face to anyone with even minimal experience dealing with hotels. It's well known that hotels don't necessarily break out cost categories precisely. Did none of the "several editors" who worked on the Post story have common sense or good judgment?
The ombudsman hinted at the real cause of this fiasco by noting early in his story that: "[A]s a journalist, my instinct tells me that the muffin story was just a bit too good to be true." He further notes, " All of us scribes love nothing more than to do a front-page story with national impact."
What the ombudsman is saying is that people at the Post wanted to write a story bashing government employees, and they did not let the facts get in the way. It's exactly what happened in the Post's coverage of the OGE conference. Reliable sources advise me the Post was given detailed information about actual OGE conference costs, but instead chose to go with snarky insinuations.
We strongly agree with the ombudsman's stated ideal, "But our first duty is to get as close to the truth as possible, even if that’s a bit less sensational."
Let's hope the Post tries to live up to this more often. A correction of their probably even worse reporting on the OGE conference would be a good place to start.
September 27, 2011
More on the Mythical $16 Muffin
A colleague pointed out yesterday that the sensational headlines concerning the Department of Justice allegedly paying $16 for muffins at a 2009 Washington legal conference were apparently misleading. The Associated Press, Talking Points Memo and others have reached a similar conclusion. Writing for Mother Jones, Kevin Drum has a good explanation.
The initial erroneous reporting on this matter is reminiscent of the drive-by journalism attack on the Office of Government Ethics 2011 conference in Orlando. Bashing government is a time-honored journalistic tradition, and we would be the last to discourage it. However, it's a good idea to make sure you get the facts right.
September 26, 2011
New Turn in $16 Muffin Story
Government Executive reports that Hilton Worldwide, the company that apparently charged DOJ conference attendees $16 per muffin at a 2009 event, stated that the DOJ IG auditors misinterpreted the invoices for that conference. The quoted price, Hilton says, included not only baked goods, but juice, coffee, soft drinks, tax and tips.
September 09, 2011
FEMA's "Ice Cream Social": Fiscal Law Aspect
POGO disagrees with a FEMA decision to hold an “ice cream social” (i.e., to serve refreshments at a ceremony recognizing employees for superior work):
Such ceremonies allow for food to be served and food gifts to be provided to a distinguished employee, and therefore someone at FEMA thinks that it’s okay to use the on-the-spot award to throw an ice cream social for the office. I can only hope that someone in the financial or audit offices get the scoop on this story and terminates it before taxpayers are left holding the bill and a melted ice cream cone.
We don’t know the details of FEMA’s plans, but for what it’s worth, we note that the type of practice described appears to be in accordance with the Government Employees Incentive Awards Act, 5 U.S.C. 4501 - 4506, as interpreted by the Government Accountability Office in opinions including 65 Comp. Gen. 738 (1986). GAO’s treatise Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, 3rd Edition explains the rule at pages 4-116 through 4-118, including the observation that “[T]he agency would be within its legitimate discretion to determine that refreshments would materially enhance the effectiveness of a ceremonial function, specifically in this case an awards ceremony which is a valid component of the agency’s statutorily authorized awards program.”
In other words, it appears to be perfectly legal. The response from some critics who are determined to bash the government would be that “just because something is legal does not make it right.” No doubt that general proposition is true, but its applicability here is in doubt. Private businesses routinely engage in similar practices. They are making a business judgment that this is good for their bottom line. As GAO has concluded, there’s no reason federal government managers should not have the same discretion.
August 14, 2011
GAO Greenlights CFTC Whistleblower Incentive Fund
GAO has ruled in favor of a Commodity Futures Trading Commission plan to use its Customer Protection Fund to pay incentives to whistleblowers:
B-321788, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission--Availability of the Customer Protection Fund, August 8, 2011.
December 22, 2010
The Mythical 59 Minute Rule?
A 2006 Army Lawyer article examines the fiscal law implications of allowing employees to leave work early before a holiday:
The true gray area, therefore, is not what authority there is for a fifty-nine-minute rule, or who has the authority to grant or receive it. The true gray area lies in the purpose and frequency of the rule's invocation. While regularly recurring excusals that have the effect of a federal workweek reduction in duty hours are outside the parameters of management discretion, the occasional and infrequent use of the fifty-nine-minute rule as a good will gesture, especially in association with a recognized federal holiday is clearly within them. So, while federal employees need not feel too guilty about getting an occasional hour off, between these examples lays an icy slope that could lead to time and attendance audits and raise issues of proper judgment with the potential for discipline. After all, DOD employees are responsible for the sound stewardship of government resources--every one of them.
December 02, 2010
McCaskill to Examine Use of "Publicity Experts"
The Washington Post reports on Senator McCaskill's plans to probe federal agency use of public relations firms. Such practices could violate fiscal law restrictions against the use of "publicity experts" or engaging in "publicity and propaganda."
July 01, 2010
Army Fiscal Law MaterialsThe Army 2009 Fiscal Law Deskbook is available at the TJAGCNET website.
June 07, 2010
OGE Guide on Conferences (May 2010)
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) recently compiled the first edition of a reference guide on conferences. The guide includes information on not only Government ethics implications, but also fiscal, procurement, and other legal issues that often arise when Federal personnel are involved in conferences. OGE collaborated with several other entities in creating this guide, they include but are not limited to GAO, GSA, DoD, EPA, and HHS.
Please note this is ONLY meant as a reference guide to help you begin to understand the legal aspects of conferences. It should not be referenced as an authoritative document, but rather users should cite the the primary sources of the information cited in the guide.
Remember this is a working document. If you have comments, or suggestions, or wish to add your agency's perspective, please do so at www.contactoge.gov.
June 01, 2010
The Army Lawyer Archives
May 12, 2010
OMB Guidance on Federal Agencies Conducting Prize Competitions
OMB M-10-11, Guidance on the Use of Challenges and Prizes to Promote Open Government (March 8, 2010) has fiscal law implications. Thanks to John Higley & Mark Stone for the link.
March 26, 2010
Use of Appropriated Funds to Pay for Refreshments?
March 15, 2010
GAO Appropriations Law Forumactors to be considered in determining propriety of using appropriated funds to pay fees for airport "registered traveler" programs.
August 05, 2009
GAO on Retired Military Officers as Media Analysts Controversy
The Government Accountability Office has issued an opinion on a fiscal law question related to the controversy over retired military officers acting as analysts for major news outlets. The opinion does not deal with standards of conduct issues, but it is of some interest to ethics officials. Here is the GAO summary:
The Government Accountability Office has issued an opinion on a fiscal law question related to the controversy over retired military officers acting as analysts for major news outlets. The opinion does not deal with standards of conduct issues, but it is of some interest to ethics officials. Here is the GAO summary:
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 mandated that GAO provide its opinion to Congress on whether the Department of Defense (DOD) violated the appropriations prohibition on publicity or propaganda in its 2002 through 2008 outreach to retired military officers (RMO) who served as media analysts. GAO concluded that the outreach program did not violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition. Although there is no doubt that DOD attempted to favorably influence public opinion with respect to DOD's war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan through RMOs with conference calls, meetings, travel and access to senior DOD officials, GAO found no evidence that DOD attempted to conceal its outreach from the public nor was there evidence that DOD contracted with or paid RMOs for positive commentary or analysis. The opinion does not address questions raised about the RMOs' commercial ties and potential competitive advantage or possible compromised DOD procurement processes because those questions, while legitimate, did not, in our view, implicate the publicity or propaganda prohibition and, thus, were outside the scope of the opinion. For similar reasons, this opinion does not examine whether the RMOS disclosed to the viewing public or the networks whether they had commercial ties to DOD contractors or other possible conflicts of interests. B-316443, Department of Defense--Retired Military Officers as Media Analysts, July 21, 2009.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 mandated that GAO provide its opinion to Congress on whether the Department of Defense (DOD) violated the appropriations prohibition on publicity or propaganda in its 2002 through 2008 outreach to retired military officers (RMO) who served as media analysts. GAO concluded that the outreach program did not violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition. Although there is no doubt that DOD attempted to favorably influence public opinion with respect to DOD's war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan through RMOs with conference calls, meetings, travel and access to senior DOD officials, GAO found no evidence that DOD attempted to conceal its outreach from the public nor was there evidence that DOD contracted with or paid RMOs for positive commentary or analysis.
The opinion does not address questions raised about the RMOs' commercial ties and potential competitive advantage or possible compromised DOD procurement processes because those questions, while legitimate, did not, in our view, implicate the publicity or propaganda prohibition and, thus, were outside the scope of the opinion. For similar reasons, this opinion does not examine whether the RMOS disclosed to the viewing public or the networks whether they had commercial ties to DOD contractors or other possible conflicts of interests.
B-316443, Department of Defense--Retired Military Officers as Media Analysts, July 21, 2009.
June 15, 2009
Fiscal Law Issues in Purchasing Clothing
It's not unusual for ethics officers to receive questions about appropriations law, such as the use of appropriated funds to buy clothing items. Mark Stone recently provided some tips on research sources in his newsletter:
1. On the website of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), there is a January 2004, 640-page PDF document entitled "Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, Third Edition, Volume I." On pages 495-501 of the PDF document there is a seven-page discussion of dozens of legal authorities on use of appropriated funds to purchase wearing apparel for U.S. government employees. It is probably the most detailed treatment of the subject anywhere. GAO’s May 2009 update to the Third Edition does not contain any additional guidance on this issue.
2. There is a 2008 Ethics Counselor's Deskbook on the website of the DoD Standards of Conduct Office (DoD/GC-SOCO). The Deskbook has a 69-page chapter entitled “Fiscal Law Overview.” Use of appropriated funds to buy clothing is addressed on pages E-22 and E-23.
Mark's original included some Air Force-specific cites. The complete posting is available at the Air Force Materiel Command ethics website.
May 13, 2009
Subisdizing Attendance At Awards Ceremonies
When can the government subsidize attendance at an awards ceremony? Air Force lawyer Mark Stone provides a number of Department of Defense and Air Force references in his e-mail newsletter, as well as the following other authorities: 70 Comp. Gen. 440, B-241987, April 25, 1991 (spouse travel to attend an award ceremony) 69 Comp. Gen. 38, B-233607, Oct. 26, 1989 (spouse travel to attend an award ceremony) 55 Comp. Gen. 1332 (1976) (travel to accept an award from a non-Federal organization) 5 USC 4503 (awards by Federal agencies to Federal employees) GAO guide, Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, Third Edition, Jan. 2004, Volume I, page 4-167. [The March 2009 update to the guide does not have guidance on this issue.] Contact Mr. Stone to be added to his mailing list (address disguised to throw off automated address-gathering software used by spammers): mark_dot_ stone--AT--wpafb _dot_af_dot_mil. The Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) ethics website (registration required) has more ethics information:
When can the government subsidize attendance at an awards ceremony? Air Force lawyer Mark Stone provides a number of Department of Defense and Air Force references in his e-mail newsletter, as well as the following other authorities:
70 Comp. Gen. 440, B-241987, April 25, 1991 (spouse travel to attend an award ceremony)
69 Comp. Gen. 38, B-233607, Oct. 26, 1989 (spouse travel to attend an award ceremony)
55 Comp. Gen. 1332 (1976) (travel to accept an award from a non-Federal organization)
5 USC 4503 (awards by Federal agencies to Federal employees)
GAO guide, Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, Third Edition, Jan. 2004, Volume I, page 4-167. [The March 2009 update to the guide does not have guidance on this issue.]
Contact Mr. Stone to be added to his mailing list (address disguised to throw off automated address-gathering software used by spammers): mark_dot_ stone--AT--wpafb _dot_af_dot_mil.
The Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) ethics website (registration required) has more ethics information:
April 13, 2009
Refreshments at Conferences
Edited April 19 to improve clarity.
June 04, 2008
GAO Greenlights "No Cost" Contracts
A GAO opinion allows federal agencies to use so-called "no-cost" contracts. Under a no-cost contract, a vendor provides services to the government, in exchange for fees collected from third parties. For example, a vendor might organize a conference that benefitted the government, but be compensated only by attendee registration, not payments from the government. A 2005 GAO opinion had cast doubt on the legality of such arrangements. The newer opinion allows them under some circumstances, but warns:
Agency officials ... should consider possible conflicts of interest before signing a no-cost contract, keeping in mind that control of the agenda, selection of speakers and other matters concerning content should serve the government's, not the contractor's, purpose. Ultimately, an agency must not lose sight of its objectives for a particular event and should ensure that in avoiding costs to the agency, it does not take actions that compromise the effectiveness of its conference, undermine the achievement of agency goals, or violate ethics rules.
Updated June 5 to improve clarity.
January 23, 2008
Army Fiscal Law Web Site
Ethics advisors that receive questions with fiscal law implications will find a welcome resource in the Army Fiscal Law web site. Among other things, their Fiscal Law Deskbook makes a nice supplement to the GAO Redbook.
November 08, 2007
Travel Reimbursement Controversy Continues
Today's Washington Post has still more on alleged violations of travel reimbursement rules at the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Thanks to the alert Cary Williams for tipping us off to this issue. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Use the "Contact Us" address at left (changed occasionally to evade spammers).
August 09, 2007
E-mail Alleged to Violate Lobbying Ban
Government Executive has a report on a controversy involving an e-mail that originated within the Farm Service Agency that encouraged agency employees to lobby Congress. The story links to a good USDA Ethics Office summary of the laws prohibiting such conduct.