|Military personnel have strict ethical conduct rules
Major Joseph Baar Topinka, an Army attorney from Illinois, has provided the following advisory to the ISBA Committee on Military Affairs. He is chief of the Administrative and Civil Law Division of the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Drum, N.Y.
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Many non-military organizations subscribe to some form of ethical rules for conduct, and the military is no different. This is most apparent to military reservists who find themselves on prolonged active duty tours.
The provisions of Department of Defense (DOD) Directive 5500.7-R, also known as the Joint Ethics Regulation (JER), will apply to reservists throughout activated service. One of its most significant effects is on individual relationships with non-federal entities, or private organizations.
Once activated, a reservist becomes a DOD employee who cannot participate in any official capacity in the management of a private organization. A DOD employee cannot officially endorse a private organization's fund-raising or membership drive.
A DOD employee cannot show any preferential treatment to include official endorsement of a private organization's event, product or service, and cannot support or use government resources to support a private organization's activities unless there is some valid agency interest.
Of course there are exceptions to these basic rules. For example, a DOD employee can be a liaison with a non-federal entities when there is a significant and continuing DOD interest in such participation, but this is by no means official management.
A DOD employee can officially endorse the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), which covers numerous non-federal, charitable organizations all at one time.
A DOD employee can also endorse an organization composed primarily of DOD employees or their dependents, when fund raising among members for the benefit of welfare for themselves or their dependents.
This exception applies to Family Readiness Groups (FRG) or their equivalents throughout the military branches, because they are organizations composed primarily of unit members and their families. Any fundraising conducted by an FRG is in effect for the benefit of the supporting unit members or families.
Another example is that of logistical support to non-federal entity events, when there is a DOD public affairs interest, a military training interest, or a community relations interest. In addition to other requirements, the event must be appropriate for association with the DOD, and must be of interest and benefit to the community or DOD.
Due to lack of knowledge of these rules, military personnel occasionally make mistakes in this area. In one of my previous assignments, for example, a young soldier in uniform was filmed in a television commercial going to a business and using the company's services.
While the soldier did not say explicitly that the military endorsed the company, his actions could certainly be perceived by the public as an implicit endorsement of the company by the Army, considering that the soldier was wearing his unit insignia, and the words "U.S. Army" could be seen sewn on his uniform.
Still other examples include letters written by soldiers, airmen, sailors or marines, or their leaders, to companies to solicit goods or services explicitly, and then saying thank you for those same items. The companies then publish the letters in local newspaper advertisements or describe them in radio advertisements.
At the very least, these letters can be perceived as implicit endorsements of the companies by agents of the military, especially when the personnel identify themselves, their ranks and their military unit affiliations.
Especially during these times of deployment, there is no doubt that companies, organizations and associations have the best intentions in helping military personnel and their families. I also have no doubt that military personnel may inadvertently do something which can be perceived as official endorsement or support by DOD, when in fact that is not the case.
Reservists need to be aware that when on active duty, specific ethical principles apply to them in regard to non-federal entities.
Statutory and regulatory references on this issue are numerous. For the private practitioner, several Internet resources provide good overviews, opinions and cites. Here are five excellent sites:
http://www.usoge.gov/home.html - Office of Government Ethics.
http://www.defenselink.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/ - U.S. Department of Defense Standards of Conduct Office.
http://www.hqda.army.mil/ogc/ - Office of General Counsel, Department of the Army.
http://www.afmc.wpafb.af.mil/HQ-AFMC/JA/lo/lojaf/ethics/index.htmWright-Patterson Air Force Base, Judge Advocate General, Ethics and Fraud Remedies.
http://ethics.navy.mil/ - Department of the Navy Ethics Program.