Ethics – live by them on, off duty

  • Published
  • By Maj. Christopher Baker
  • 28th Bomb Wing Deputy Staff Judge Advocate
We in the military are fortunate. We're fortunate to have jobs, health care, a variety of support networks at our disposal on base, and to serve in the greatest Air Force in the greatest nation on the globe.

During the holiday season, we reflect on our good fortune and look for ways to give back to the community or charitable causes. Although this is commendable, we must not lose sight of ethical rules. Good intentions are not affirmative defenses to ethical violations.

Sometimes we want to support efforts that require help from others. Whether we're trying to collect money for an orphanage, toys for needy children or clothes for a women's shelter, we still need to do it the right way.

The Joint Ethics Regulations govern, among other things, authorized use of government e-mail systems. Government employees have a duty to refrain from using or allowing use of government resources, to include e-mail systems, for purposes other than those for which they are made available to the public or those authorized in accordance with law or regulation.

Government e-mail systems may not be used to advertise a fundraising event - that's not why the government provides us with an e-mail system. Similarly, it may not be used to endorse one charity over another.

Leaders must also be careful to avoid the appearance of coercing subordinates to donate time, money or other items for these causes. A squadron commander cannot identify a worthy cause and order his people to donate money or items. Subordinates may feel like they have to donate to these causes or suffer adverse impacts to their performance reports, nominations for quarterly awards or other career opportunities.

There are lawful ways to get the word out, which include unofficial websites, such as Facebook - no official endorsement intended. First sergeants may remind personnel they have information about events both on and off base, some of which may be charitable in nature, and that Airmen may contact them for further information.

Fundraising cannot be done in an official capacity or in the workplace. Sending emails is, by its very nature, part of the workplace.

The commander of a base may provide use of equipment as logistical support of an event sponsored by a non-federal entity - except fundraising and membership drives - under limited circumstances.

One such circumstance, which is outlined in the Joint Ethics Regulations, section 3-211a, states that the commander of an installation must be able and willing to provide the same support to comparable events that meet the criteria of this subsection and are sponsored by similar non-federal entities.

What this means is that if the commander approves using email to support a gift drive for the orphanage this week, he would have to be willing to approve using email to support a gift drive for children in foster care next week, and eventually would have to be willing to approve using email to support a gift drive for children somewhere else such as Indonesia. The scope and breadth of requests could grow and grow and become over whelming for all recipients.

He would also have to be willing and able to provide similar support to causes you may not support or want to receive emails about. Eventually, the commander and Ellsworth personnel would spend an inordinate amount of time preparing, reviewing and digesting requests and information for events that are not mission oriented or related.

There are many rules involved with the use of government resources, endorsements and advertising. They can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. The 28th Bomb Wing Legal Office is here to help. If you have any questions, come visit us the Ellsworth Law Center, located at 1000 Ellsworth Street, Suite 2700 in the Rushmore Center.