From time to time, the question has been asked whether military members or civilian employees of DoD and the armed services serve as officers of ASMC in their official government capacities. If this were the case, potential conflicts of interest could arise, and violations of the DoD Joint Ethics Regulation (DoD 5500.7-R) could result. While it is not uncommon for military and civilian leaders to also serve as ASMC officers and committee chairs, none of us work for ASMC in our official government capacities. The two are separate and must remain so.

In a memorandum dated March 7, 1996, the DoD General Counsel discussed the issue of military and civilian personnel serving in their official capacities in the management of “non-Federal entities,” Non-Federal entities are organizations that are not part of the Government. They include a wide range of activities: charitable organizations such as Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and Army Emergency Relief; professional societies like ASMC; corporations and credit unions; local churches and civic groups.

The General Counsel’s memorandum advised that personnel were generally prohibited from serving in the management of these organizations in their official DoD capacities without the written permission of the DoD Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO). The memorandum went on the say, however, “[t]his change does not affect the ability of DoD personal to manage non-federal entities in their personal capacities.” The background to the General Counsel’s memorandum is helpful to understanding the difference between “official” and “personal” capacities.

Some charitable organizations with close, long-standing relationships with the armed services historically had designated the service chiefs as their heads. These organizations specified particular governmental offices, rather than individuals, as part of their management structure. For example, the Army Chief of Staff or Chief of Naval Operations, regardless of who occupied those positions, would serve as the titular head of these groups. This was service in a private organization in an “official capacity” which the DoD General Counsel concluded was generally prohibited. Subsequently, the Congress has enacted legislation to expressly permit the kind of dual service by the service chiefs and others in very limited circumstances.

Military personnel and civilian DoD employees who serve as officers in ASMC and most other private organizations serve in their “personal capacities.” ASMC chooses individuals for leadership roles based upon the talents and skills that they bring to the organization. No doubt many of these same qualities are relevant to service in other private organizations and to holding a responsible position in the Government. Holding a Government job, however, is not a pre-requisite to being a member or an officer in ASMC.

A related pronouncement from DoD concerns compensation received for serving in a personal capacity in management positions and boards of directors of non-Federal entities. In a memorandum dated July 23, 1996, Deputy Secretary of Defense White directed that active duty military officers in pay grades O-7 through O-10 could not receive compensation for serving in the management of non-Federal entities. The only exceptions are for professional associations and family businesses, and then only with the express approval of the service Secretary concerned. As a practical matter, this policy will not impact ASMC since the only compensated ASMC personnel are those on the professional staff at the National Headquarters, none of whom are active duty O-7s through O-10s.

Although we serve in ASMC in our personal capacities, we must be mindful to not use our official positions improperly on behalf of ASMC or any other private organization. As required by the Joint Ethics Regulation, DoD 5500.7-R, DOD employees must act impartially toward all private entities. The purpose of this article and ones to appear in future editions of the magazine is to acquaint you with some of the issues that may arise in connection with the Joint Ethics Regulation and your participation in ASMC. Should you have a question that requires an official position from your command or service, consult with an ethics attorney from your local judge advocate’s or general counsel’s office.