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United States Office of Government Ethics, Preventing Conflicts of Interest in the Executive Branch

Political Appointees
March 31, 2017

Political appointees are subject to more ethics restrictions than regular executive branch employees. For purposes of this discussion, the term "political appointee" refers broadly to any employee who is appointed by the President, the Vice President, or agency head. As used here, the term encompasses two categories of appointees. Each category is subject to additional and slightly different ethics restrictions.

Ethics Pledge

Executive Order 13770 requires any political appointee who is appointed to a full-time position on or after January 20, 2017, to sign an Ethics Pledge. Under the pledge, each political appointee makes the following commitments:

  • not to accept gifts or gratuities from registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations (subject only to certain exceptions);
  • to recuse for two years from any particular matter involving specific parties in which a former employer or client is or represents a party, if the appointee served that employer or client during the two years prior to the appointment;
  • if the appointee was a registered lobbyist during the prior two years, to recuse, for two years after appointment, from any particular matter on which the appointee lobbied during the two years prior to appointment; and
  • to agree that any hiring or other employment decisions will be based on the candidate's qualifications, competence, and experience.

The following additional restrictions apply after the appointee leaves Government service:

  • within 5 years after termination of employment as an appointee in any executive agency in which the appointee is appointed to serve, not to engage in lobbying activities with respect to that agency;
  • if covered by the post-employment restrictions set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 207(c), to abide by those restrictions;
  • not to engage in lobbying activities with respect to any covered executive branch official or non-career Senior Executive Service appointee for the remainder of the Administration; and
  • not to engage in any activity on behalf of any foreign government or foreign political party which would require the appointee to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended.

Note: Political appointees who were appointed to full-time positions in the prior administration were required to sign an Ethics Pledge pursuant to Executive Order 13490. The text of that executive order is available here.


Outside Earned Income Ban

With some exceptions, those political appointees who are appointed by the President are subject to an additional restriction pertaining to outside earned income. Under Section 102 of Executive Order 12674, a political appointee who is appointed by the President to a full-time noncareer position in the executive branch is prohibited from receiving any earned income for any outside employment or activity performed during that Presidential appointment. Appointees in the following positions are exempt from this ban:

  • a position filled under the authority of 3 U.S.C. § 105 or 3 U.S.C. § 107(a) for which the rate of basic pay is less than that for GS-9, step 1 of the General Schedule;
  • a position, within a White House operating unit, that is designated as not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition;
  • a position within the uniformed services; and
  • a position in which a member of the foreign service is serving that does not require advice and consent of the Senate.

The information on this page is not a substitute for individual advice. Agency ethics officials should be consulted about specific situations.