What is meant by "improper appearances" and "a lack of impartiality?"
Think of it as a question of fairness. Suppose you went to a baseball game and you found out that the umpire was the uncle of a player on one of the teams. Most people would say that the umpire should not work that game, because there would be a strong appearance that he might not make the calls fairly and impartially.
A similar rule applies to you when you are doing your job. You should not act on a matter if a reasonable person who knew the circumstances of the situation could legitimately question your fairness. For example, your fairness might reasonably be questioned if you were to work on a project that could directly benefit a relative. The rule lists a number of such "covered relationships" with people and organizations that could pose a question of an "improper appearance."
If you have a situation that you think might raise such a concern, then you should talk to an ethics official at the Department. He or she will be able to tell you whether or not there is an appearance problem and give you advice on how to deal with it.
Examples of Situations Where Fairness May Be Questioned
- Marvin's handling of a consumer complaint that has been submitted to his agency by his business associate, or by a close friend, would raise a question about his impartiality.
- After 20 years with the same company, Pam accepts a job with the Government. For one year, she should consider whether her fairness would be questioned if she were to act on matters specifically involving her former employer.
- Roy's work on an investigation of a company that is being represented by his brother would raise a question about his impartiality.
- Susan should have concerns about reviewing grant applications to her agency if one of the applicants for a particular grant is an outside organization where her father serves on the board of directors.