Avoiding nepotism in government positions

Nepotism is common in the private sector – especially among small, family-run businesses. But in government jobs, it’s a conflict of interest that could derail your career.

Nepotism in any form is prohibited among federal employees, and for good reason. The government has an obligation to maintain competitive, open and merit-based personnel practices. Nepotism unfairly shuts out qualified applicants and creates hurdles that shouldn’t exist. As a type of corruption, it’s not only unethical but also illegal, and it can be a criminal offense.

The sometimes blurry boundaries of nepotism

What exactly is nepotism? In the context of the government, it’s any favorable treatment toward relatives that compromises fairness, integrity and neutrality.

Nepotism commonly arises in the employment process. However, it isn’t limited to hiring. It can also come up in contracting, reviewing, inspecting and other dealings with third parties.

While nepotism is more frequent in entry-level government positions, it sometimes extends to higher-level officers. For example, the former director of a government contracting division was recently indicted on fraud charges involving nepotism. She allegedly pressured a contracting company to hire her husband, brother, sister-in-law and father – all for comfortable salaries.

Navigating gray areas

Nepotism isn’t always obvious, and it isn’t always done with bad intentions. Government employees might cross into a gray area when they express interest in a vacant position on behalf of a relative they believe is well-qualified. Moreover, just because a highly credentialed applicant has a relative working in the same agency shouldn’t mean that person is ineligible.

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has provided general guidance on how to navigate these sticky situations. The MSPB urges employees to always err on the side of honesty and transparency. Employees should disclose potential conflicts to the appropriate ethics office and recuse themselves when needed.

Yet these standards aren’t always clear-cut. For example, there is no consistent guidance on when an optional disclosure form should be used to identify whether job applicants have relatives in the same agency. And even those who follow the MSPB’s guidelines could come under fire later. As attorney Alan Lescht noted in a recent article, employees might submit full disclosures and maintain total transparency, yet these could still get overlooked in the shuffle of bureaucracy.

Steering clear of impropriety with big changes ahead

Ongoing training and more detailed guidance are essential for helping federal employees steer clear of impropriety. As the change in our nation’s presidential administration approaches – bringing massive staff turnovers and thousands of new appointment opportunities – the need for straightforward, easy-to-follow procedures will intensify.

The bottom line: Transparency shouldn’t be difficult to attain for employees, officers, managers and other government personnel.

Feds issue ‘first-ever’ social media policy for security clearance determinations

As the Washington Post reports, the Director of National Intelligence has issued a directive that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms will now figure in the government’s investigation of federal employees and would-be employees who are applying (and re-applying) for security clearances.

The Post calls it a “first-ever” policy.

The ‘whole-person’ approach includes looking into social media accounts.

The Post quotes Beth Cobert of the Office of Personnel Management:

“Agencies make security clearance decisions using a ‘whole person’ approach to assessing who is an acceptable security risk. One component of that approach in the 21st century is social media.”

Investigators will look only at info that is ‘readily available.’

Apparently, a key aspect of this new policy is that the government won’t look into everything posted online, nor will it take everything it finds into account in its security clearance determination – though the Post report lacks details as to how this will be policed.

Indeed, some lawmakers are skeptical.

“How will this work?” asked Rep. Gerry Connolly. “How do we flag the serious from the trivia?”

“Alan gave me the information I needed to save my federal career.” – Former client

If you have an issue with your security clearance, consider contacting Alan Lescht & Associates, P.C. Based in Washington, D.C., we regularly represent federal employees facing trouble with security clearances Рwhether at-risk or suspended/revoked. For more information on our practice, visit this page about security clearances, or call 202-463-6036.

EEOC: Sexual Orientation Discrimination is Prohibited By Title VII

The EEOC’s recent ruling in Baldwin v. Dep’t of Transportation, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080, 2015 WL 4397641 (July 16, 2015) represents another significant victory in the hard-fought battle for the rights of the LGBT community. This groundbreaking decision is the first of its kind to find that claims of discrimination based on “sexual orientation” may be brought under Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964.

The case arose after a man in Florida alleged that his employer, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) repeatedly failed to promote him to a frontline manager position because he is an openly gay man. Although the EEOC has not yet issued a decision on the merits of the discrimination claim, the July 10, 2015 decision held that the FAA is required to process Mr. Baldwin’s complaint of discrimination based on his sexual orientation, stating: “[s]exual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex,” thereby creating an entitlement to protection under Title VII.

This ruling directly impacts federal employees because it applies to all federal agencies. In short, this decision affords federal employees the immediate right to be free from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Many believe that the next step in LGBT rights will involve federal courts’ similar interpretation of Title VII to include prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination in the private sector but, at present, those waters remain uncharted.

Mr. Baldwin’s case represents a significant step forward for the LGBT community and for federal employees. If you believe that your federal employer has subjected you to discrimination based on your sexual orientation, you should immediately contact a federal employment attorney who will assist you in determining your rights under this changing area of the law.

Source: Baldwin v. Dep’t of Transportation, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080, 2015 WL 4397641 (July 16, 2015) pdf