Each citizen must do their part to ensure the public’s trust in our governmental institutions is protected. Ensuring all federal officials, without respect to political party, act impartially and transparently on behalf of all Americans is a task that requires the assistance of federal employees, contractors, and any other member of the public that may have knowledge of wrongdoing. A crucial step to protecting the trust is for each of us to understand the tools that are in place to protect the interest of everyone. Each American must know these tools exist and that they can be relied on. Below is an overview of the most common areas where officials fail in protecting the public’s interest.
To ensure the public interest is protected, all federal officials, including senior political appointees, are required to comply with a number of ethics laws, regulations, and commitments that ensure the government is working for all Americans in an objective, impartial, and transparent manner. Obligations such as those laid out below in 5 C.F.R. §2635.502 may restrict a high-ranking government official with a robust former employment history from participating in a number of particular matters in the first year on the job (and even two, when factoring in the standard Administration ethics pledge).
Biden Ethics Pledge
Similar to many Presidents before him, President Joe Biden issued a robust ethics pledge on day one of his Administration. The restrictions go beyond the law and existing regulations but nonetheless bind the President’s appointees. Some of the more notable provisions address the ability of former lobbyists to serve in the Administration, the period of time required before officials can participate in particular matters involving former employers, and post-employment lobbying restrictions.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The FOIA was passed into law in 1966 and has been steadily enhanced by Congress to provide the public an opportunity to look into the operations of the federal government and its leaders. Maintaining devotion to its ideals sometimes requires rigorous oversight and persistence, as agencies regularly seek to exempt vast amounts of information from public disclosure or delay in producing it altogether. Enforcing your rights however, often requires understanding agency-specific FOIA regulations.
Federal Records Act
Documenting the actions and deliberations of government officials is essential to holding them accountable and preventing arbitrary decision-making. There are a host of laws, regulations, and agency-specific requirements to preserve such documents, known as federal records, and record if they are improperly destroyed. This requirement also allows the public to ensure officials are not conducting business with prohibited entities such as former employers. But this oversight becomes difficult when officials use personal email accounts to conduct official business. Outside of nominal use, this is a prohibited practice and should be reported.
Federal employees are prohibited from using government resources to promote or oppose a political party or candidate. This law is meant to give the public confidence that their leaders are making decisions in an impartial manner and not unfairly tilting the playing field toward one candidate or party.
Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA)
Violations of the laws and regulations listed on this page can have major consequences for those responsible. This can sometimes lead to law-abiding federal employees being unfairly targeted for exposing the bad actor. The WPA was enacted to protect federal employees who disclose “government illegality, waste, and corruption” from adverse consequences related to their employment. When employees receive demotions, pay cuts, or a replacement employee, the WPA may be an appropriate avenue for a federal employee to pursue to defend their rights.
If you have knowledge of federal officials violating any of these or other laws, rules and regulations, please let us know. By exposing bad actors we can ensure Americans are aware of bad actors and get the clean government they deserve.
If you do have information you want to share with us, please do not use an official government email address to avoid the potential for retaliation. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will maintain your confidentiality and work with you every step of the way.