Workforce Management

Moonlight might feel right, but ask first

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You're a government IT guru tempted to turn to the private sector while waiting out the furlough. Your know-how is invaluable. You have the connections. Getting a temporary gig until Congress passes a fiscal 2014 spending bill is a simple matter of wanting to, right?

As ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso might say, not so fast.

Even as the spending standoff has sent 800,000 federal employees home, agency workers are still bound to "executive branch-wide standards of ethical conduct and rules regarding outside employment," according to guidelines issued by the Office of Management and Budget.

That means employees must continue to adhere to Office of Government Ethics regulations that prohibit them from "participating in their official capacities in particular matters that have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of person with whom they are 'seeking employment' or with whom they have an arrangement concerning future employment." Some agencies require pre-approval for any outside employment.

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"When an employee is furloughed, they're basically on their own time and they're free to go and look for temporary, part-time job, what have you," said John Palguta, vice president of policy for the Partnership for Public Service. "But one caveat would be that they would have to be still mindful of any ethical considerations or conflicts of interest."

An obvious example would be someone who works for, say, the Securities and Exchange Commission moonlighting with a brokerage. "If they work at an agency that has regulatory oversight of some sector or business, to go to work for that business with the expectation that when the furlough is over they would come back to government, they would want to make sure that they haven't somehow compromised their independence," Palguta said.

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Some of the Presidential Innovation Fellows are already working.

There are less obvious examples as well.

GSA regulations require approval for employees who want to work with a "prohibited source," such as an entity that does or seeks to do business with the GSA. But regulations related to approval of outside employment differ slightly from agency to agency.

Agriculture Department regulations stipulate that any employee who is required to file a financial disclosure report, which includes senior officials and employees who deal with certain types of information (think procurement), must obtain written approval for any outside employment.

OMB employees must obtain approval from three specific parties -- the office or department head, the general counsel and the designated agency ethics official -- before accepting outside employment.

"You want to make sure that if you have an employee with access to confidential information, that they're not going to be working for some place where it would be hard to maintain that confidence, or there'd be pressure to provide some information that is not generally available to the public," Palguta said.

At the same time, Palguta suggested, requiring approval for a job that clearly presents no conflict is going a bit far.

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"If I'm an employee and I'm trying to make ends meet, I would have a sense that maybe it wasn't entirely fair and I would look to see if there's some way to get some guidance on this," he said.

And then there is the challenge of tracking down the right people to get approval from. They might have been furloughed themselves.

"I suspect since we haven't had a real shutdown for 17 years, they probably haven't thought through some of those things," Palguta said.

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.


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