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Ethics rules outline DoD employees' charitable activities

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Recently, there has been much confusion by military members and civilian employees alike as to their involvement in charitable activities while on-duty and on the installation. There are very strict federal ethics rules that apply to all DoD employees, and failure to comply with these rules can have severe consequences.

What's the bottom line?

Servicemembers and Department of Defense employees may not use government e-mail to advertise for charities or fundraisers. Also, they may not use government e-mail to solicit others to donate money or other items - for example clothing and food - to a specific charity or organization. Charities are considered non-federal entities and the Joint Ethics Regulation prohibits DoD employees from endorsing them in their official capacities.

The law is clear

Under the JER, government computer systems, telephones, e-mail, and internet systems may only be used for official use and authorized purposes. DoD employees are specifically prohibited from using government e-mail and telephone systems for unofficial advertising, soliciting or selling, or any other uses incompatible with public service. DoD employees may not endorse any NFE, product or service either explicitly or implicitly, in their official capacities, titles and positions. The same applies to fundraising for NFEs, except officially sanctioned events such as the Combined Federal Campaign and the Air Force Assistance Fund.

What about private organizations?

The same JER rules apply to private organizations. POs may not use government e-mail to publicize or advertise for their charitable drives or fundraising events. This applies regardless of whether a PO is sending a mass e-mail only to its members, or to people outside of its membership roles. Official government e-mail may not be used to broadcast fundraiser or charity information, no matter how benevolent it seems. However, a PO may send a mass e-mail to its members notifying them of an upcoming meeting. POs may also provide a general agenda that could list fundraising or charitable work as an item to be addressed at the meeting. However, specific information about the event, including requests for POCs or solicitation for volunteers, should be discussed at the meeting and not through official government telecommunications systems.

What can we do?

The JER permits DoD employees to post information about fundraisers or charitable events that benefit NFEs on a commander-approved bulletin board. Further guidance is found in AFMAN 33-152. "Use web pages or electronic public folders for unofficial electronic messages (i.e., booster club activities, etc.)." A unit Facebook page would be an example of an online bulletin board or approved web page to which fundraiser or charitable event information could be posted.

What are the consequences of violating the JER?

JER violations may warrant disciplinary action against individuals. Also, under AFMAN 33-152, User Responsibilities and Guidance for Information Systems, unauthorized personal use of government e-mail, such as soliciting or selling, "is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Article 92, Failure to Obey Order or Regulation." Additionally, "violations by civilian employees may result in administrative disciplinary action."