A guide for government contractors on using government resources

You got that government contract. Congratulations.

Now it’s time to get to work, but hold on a minute. Working for the government brings a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Rules put in place to protect government resources and property might have an impact on the way you do business.

Fortunately there’s a handy 11-page guide from the Ethics Counselor’s Deskbook on the Use of Government Resources. In general, this guide explains how government resources should and should not be used. The definition of resources is broad enough to include money, office supplies, telephones or other communications equipment, printing and copying machines, government mail and vehicles.

Let us highlight a few relevant sections for you.

  1. Postal Mail – “It is improper to use government resources to produce holiday greeting cards.”
  2. Email – You shouldn’t send or receive electronic messages for commercial or financial gain.
  3. Office – You can’t use your office for private gain, or for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, including nonprofit organizations and “persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment or business relations”

What does this mean for you, the government contractor? It means that if you have other clients or contracts and you use resources at a government facility to work on those contracts or contact those clients, you might be charged with misuse of government resources. Even if you’re working on a second government contract, you could be at risk.

In one case (Barcia v. Department of the Army) a civilian employee faced a 30-day suspension for using a government computer to maintain private business records and communicate with outside firms. Even if you pay for the privilege of using the property, you can still be charged.

If you landed a government contract but you still have a business to run, you might want an off-site workspace to make sure you remove any possibility of real or perceived misappropriation. Make sure that any work you do on-site is directly related to your contract. Non-contract work, even drafting correspondence or phone calls with clients, should be done at your private office or executive suite. Contract work related to a contract other than the one for which the resources are allotted should also be done either at that contract site or at your own office.

For answers to some frequently asked questions about using government resources, visit this Q&A page from the Department of the Interior.