U.S. Geological Survey Manual

370.338.2-Employment of Relatives

This chapter provides policy and guidance for managers, supervisors, employees, and Servicing Personnel Offices (SPOs) regarding the employment of relatives within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).


OPR: Office of the Director/Office of Human Resources

1. Purpose. This chapter provides policy and guidance for managers, supervisors, employees, and Servicing Personnel Offices (SPOs) regarding the employment of relatives within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

2. Authority. This chapter is based upon the provisions of 5 U.S.C. 3110, 18 U.S.C. 208, 5 CFR 310, and 5 CFR 2635.502.

3. Definitions.

A. “Relative” means father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.

Note: This policy does not specifically cover individuals who may be members of an employee’s household but are not included under the definition of “relative.” However, 5 CFR 2635.502 precludes an employee from taking actions in his/her Government capacity that are likely to have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interest of a member of his/her household. Public officials should also avoid circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to question an employee’s impartiality in an official matter and that would create even the “appearance” of a conflict of interest. Title 18, section 208 of the United States Code (18 USC 208) prohibits employees from participating in a particular matter in their Government capacity in which they have a direct or indirect financial interest, including interests of a spouse, minor child, general partner, an organization in which he/she is serving as officer, director, trustee, general partner or employee, or any person or organization with whom he/she is negotiating or has any arrangement concerning prospective employment.

B. “Public Official” is anyone authorized to appoint, employ, promote or advance individuals, or to recommend them for appointment, employment, promotion or advancement. This includes leads, supervisors and managers at all levels. For the purpose of this policy, Headquarters and Servicing Personnel Officers are considered to be public officials who have appointment authority for all organizations that they service, and are therefore precluded from employing relatives within any organizational components that they service. Examples of appointment and employment authorities exercised by public officials include initial hires from a register or other source, reinstatements, reassignments, and transfers, or recommendations for such actions. Promotion and advancement authorities of public officials include recommendation or approval of personnel actions that increase an employee’s grade, pay, or relative standing in the organizational structure. Public official responsibilities also include authority to recommend or approve actions to direct, assign, reward, transfer, furlough, layoff, recall, suspend, discipline, or remove employees.

C. “Chain of command” is the line of supervisory authority that runs from the employee to the Director of the USGS and the Secretary of the Interior.

D. “Advocate” is to, either orally or in writing: (1) recommend or select a relative for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement or (2) refer a relative for consideration for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement. Forwarding or distributing resumes or applications on behalf of a relative is prohibited under this definition. For the purposes of this section, a public official who refers a relative for consideration by a public official standing lower in the chain of command is deemed to have advocated the appointment, promotion, or advancement of the relative.

4. General Policy. The USGS makes every effort to fill positions with the best-qualified candidates available. In making hiring and other personnel-related decisions, the USGS strives to preserve the highest standards of integrity by avoiding any real or perceived conflict of interest situations resulting from the employment of relatives.

A. Prohibition on the Supervision of Relatives. The USGS policy on the employment of relatives prohibits a USGS public official from appointing, employing, promoting, advancing, or advocating the advancement of, a relative in an organization over which the public official exercises jurisdiction or control, except for the emergency exception outlined in Section 5. below. A USGS public official is also prohibited from appointing, employing, promoting, or advancing the relative of another USGS public official if that public official has advocated the appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement of his/her relative. Example of advocating: A Regional Executive recommends the appointment of his/her relative to a Regional Executive in another region. The second Regional Executive may not appoint the relative, even though the relative does not report to the first Regional Executive.

This policy applies to all USGS positions, regardless of type of appointment. Relatives of employees of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior are also covered by this policy.

If a situation arises where a USGS employee becomes a supervisor of a relative as a result of reorganization, marriage, or other circumstance, corrective action shall be taken to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. Most of these cases can be resolved through reassignment. Every effort will be made by USGS management to minimize personal hardship (such as changes in commuting areas and loss of career opportunities) to the affected individuals. Appropriate Regional and Associate Directors will be the deciding officials with consultation from the Servicing Personnel Office if a more severe alternative is needed, e.g., transfer to another organization or agency.

B. Treatment of Preference Eligibles. This policy does not prohibit the appointment in the competitive service of a preference eligible if: (1) his/her name is within reach for selection from an appropriate certificate of eligibles and (2) an alternative selection cannot be made from the certificate without passing over the preference eligible and selecting an individual who is not a preference eligible. This applies only to the initial appointment action. Subsequent actions on the part of the public official affecting the relative’s employment (e.g., recommendation for promotion) are prohibited.

C. Relatives Working within the Same Organizational Component. Nothing in this policy precludes USGS relatives from working within the same USGS organizational component (even at lower levels in the same section or unit), so long as one relative is not in a supervisory position over the other relative, is not in a position to influence the promotion or advancement of that relative, and did not advocate the hiring of the relative. Although this policy does not preclude USGS relatives from working within the same USGS organizational component, such situations may be disruptive to the work environment, and managers/supervisors should carefully consider all alternatives prior to making hiring decisions involving relatives.

D. Volunteers, Emeritus, and Contractor Employees. Although this policy primarily addresses the hiring of personnel into USGS positions, the same concepts are applicable to USGS volunteer or Emeritus positions and contractors. USGS employees shall not oversee relatives who are serving as employees working under a USGS contract, employees working for an organization under a USGS cooperative agreement or grant, or USGS volunteers/Emeritus. To be consistent with 18 USC 208, USGS employees shall avoid any other situations in which their actions in their USGS capacities could affect the financial interests of relatives, even if the relatives work for organizations outside of the USGS (such as a University with whom USGS has a cooperative agreement). To remain consistent with 5 CFR 2635.502, employees should avoid circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to question an employee’s impartiality in the matter, and which would create even the “appearance” of a conflict of interest. Note: The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) prohibit contracting with a Government employee or a business substantially owned or controlled by the employee, his/her spouse or child (See SM 401.6).

5. Exceptions to the Policy.

A. Emergency Exception. A request for an exception may be submitted to permit a USGS public official to employ a relative in an emergency situation for 1 month. This timeframe may be extended for a second month if the emergency need still exists. Emergency requests may be submitted to meet urgent needs posing an immediate threat to life or property or national emergencies, such as forest fires, floods, earthquakes, etc. (See 5 CFR 230.402)

B. Exception Procedures. Requests for an exception to the nepotism policies will be submitted in writing through the chain of command to the appropriate management official reporting to the Director/Deputy Director or manager/supervisor who reports directly to a Regional Executive or Chief, Office of Regional Services for decision and approval. Requests for exceptions should clearly state the reasons for the exception and why a hardship will be placed on the USGS if an exception is not granted. Advice from the Servicing Personnel Offices is available to assist public officials in determining whether a particular situation meets the criteria for an exception.

If any approved exception results in a situation where an employee supervises a relative in an organization under which he/she exercises authority or control, another individual at a higher level in the chain of command than the supervisor will be appointed to serve as the official who will make recommendations and decisions for promotions, reassignments, performance evaluations, training, travel, transfers, or other actions that may affect the grade, pay, rank, or advancement of the relative.

6. Nepotism Certification.

Servicing Personnel Offices will require each applicant actively considered for employment to complete Form 9-1644, Nepotism Certification, prior to appointment, stating whether or not any of his/her relatives as defined in Section 3.A. are employed in the USGS or the Office of the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Where an employment-of-relative situation exists, the requesting manager/supervisor must certify that: the action was not advocated by an employee who is the applicant’s or the employee’s relative, and neither relative is in a position to directly or indirectly supervise the other. Servicing Personnel Offices will be responsible for ensuring that the requirements of this Policy are met prior to extending job offers involving relatives of USGS or Office of the Secretary of the Interior employees.

It is the employee’s responsibility to notify the Servicing Personnel Office immediately whenever his/her employment-of-relative status changes through marriage, etc. Form 9-1644 may be used for this purpose.

7. Discipline.

A violation of any of the provisions of this chapter may be cause for disciplinary action against the employee who takes or advocates an unlawful personnel action.

An individual appointed, employed, promoted, or advanced in violation of 5 U.S.C. 3110 is not entitled to the pay of the position where unlawfully placed. He/she must refund any money unlawfully received, and the personnel action must be canceled.

8. Effective Date. This chapter supersedes all other USGS policies, procedures, and guidance on the same subject and remains in effect until superseded.