How to ensure proper use of government resources

  • Published
  • By By Lt. Col. Taylor Smith
  • 21st Space Wing Legal Office
It may appear that the rules governing the use of government resources are straight-forward and easy to follow but every one of these rules has been violated in almost every conceivable way. For example, an Air Force JAG official once directed temporary duty travelers to stay at a local hotel even though housing was available on base at a much lower rate. This official used his reward points membership to reserve hotel rooms for visiting military personnel and, as a result of the scheme, received nearly 700,000 reward points. He pled guilty to using his public office for private gain and was sentenced to pay a $5,000 fine and $90,356 in restitution to the government.

How can you avoid owing Uncle Sam $90,000? Remember the three primary tenets that regulate the use of government resources. First, public service is a public trust. Second, employees have a duty to protect and conserve Federal property and will not use such property, or allow its use, for unauthorized activities. Third, a Government employee has a duty to protect government property and only use it for authorized purposes. 

These tenets can be violated in any number of ways. In one case, an officer routinely showed up for work at 10:30 a.m. and left as early as noon, yet somehow managed to take "excessive lunch time." He was subjected to administrative punishment for his time and attendance violations. In a different case, a civilian official used his office as a headquarters for his private company. He published his office phone number as the business's number and used DoD employees to answer the phone and take messages regarding the business for him. He also used government copiers, fax machines, and other equipment for the business. The official was reduced in grade and removed from his supervisory post. Both of these individuals failed to remember the primary tenets.

However, there may be times when government property or official time can be used for personal benefit. Most questions arise over the use of government communications systems. Personal communications from the workplace are allowable when those communications do not adversely affect official duty performance, are of reasonable duration and frequency, serve a legitimate public interest, do not reflect adversely on the DoD, and do not overburden the communication system or result in significant additional cost to the DoD. Some uses of government communications systems that have been specifically authorized are brief calls home while TDY to notify family of schedule changes, checking in with minor children, brief internet searches, and scheduling doctor or auto appointments.

This authorization, when abused, can result in sanctions. A civilian employee was warned about excessive use of government telephones for personal calls, and an investigation revealed that she had spent approximately twenty-one hours of duty time on calls to her friends and family over a five month span. She received a letter of reprimand for her lively personal life.

Likewise, there are a number of activities that are specifically prohibited on Government systems. These include distributing copyrighted materials, using email or internet for personal financial gain, and sending harassing, intimidating, abusive, or offensive material to others. Government employees are also not allowed to conduct private business ventures, send chain letters, junk email, or use government systems for political purposes. 

For violating the standards for use of government resources, military and civilian personnel can face stiff penalties. Both can punished under applicable criminal, civil and administrative sanctions, including Uniform Code of Military Justice punishment for military members and termination of employment for civilians. Use your common sense, and don't be like the deployed officer who was so enamored of local rugs and shotguns that he created a fraudulent courier order requesting an enlisted member bring an "important package" to him.  The package contained $4,000 in cash that the officer used to buy more rugs and shotguns. When caught, the officer was not only punished, but had to reimburse the government thousands of dollars for the improper travel. If you have any questions about the appropriate use of government resources, you are encouraged to work with your chain of command in making the determination.