One of the questions frequently asked of the National Headquarters is whether Government e-mail systems may be used to send communications about ASMC events and activities. The answer is a qualified “yes.”
The Department of Defense Joint Ethics Regulation, DoD 550.7-R, sec. 2 301, (available at http://www.defenselink.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/) sets out general standards for use of DoD communications systems, which include “Government owned telephones, facsimile machines, electronic mail, internet systems, and commercial systems when use is paid for by the Federal Government.” Under this regulation, (and GSA regulations found at 41 CFR 201) there are three types of communications: “official,” “authorized,” and “unauthorized.” Government communications systems may be used for both “official” and “authorized” communications.
“Official” communications are those “that the DoD Component determines are necessary in the interest of the Federal Government.” In addition to phone calls and e-mails to conduct the Government’s business, “official” communications may also include use of the systems for morale and welfare purposes when approved by theater commanders for military members and civilians, who are deployed for extended periods of time. E-mails regarding ASMC events do not fit into this category.
At the other end of the spectrum are communications that are clearly unauthorized. These are communications “that would reflect adversely on DoD or the DoD Component.” They include pornography, chain letters, commercial advertising, soliciting or selling (except on authorized bulletin boards established for such use) or other uses that violate statute or regulation such as inappropriately handling classified information or threatening or harassing e-mails.
In between these two is what the Joint Ethics Regulation and other DoD component regulations refer to as “authorized” communications. “Authorized” communications are ones that are not essential to conducting the Government’s business, but are nevertheless permitted. E-mails regarding ASMC events and activities fall into this category. Under the Joint Ethics Regulation, “authorized” communications are “personal communications from the DoD employee’s usual work place that are most reasonably made while at the work place.” They include, but are not limited to, “checking in with a spouse or minor children; scheduling doctor and auto or home repair appointments; brief internet searches; e mailing directions to visiting relatives,” Joint Ethics Regulation sec. 3-201. Some agency regulations, such as Air Force Instruction 33-119, “Air Force Messaging,” http://www.e-publishing.af.mil/pubfiles/af/33/afi33-119/afi33-119.pdf have made clear that “authorized” communications also include sending e-mails on behalf of private organizations that are authorized to operate DoD installations. What this means for ASMC chapters is that DoD e-mail systems may be used to communicate about ASMC activities. The Joint Ethics Regulation (and agency regulations), however do place limits on unofficial e-mails. Such use
* cannot adversely affect the performance of official duties by the DoD employee or the DoD employee’s organization;
* must be of reasonable duration and frequency, and whenever possible, be made during the DoD employee’s personal time such as after duty hours or lunch periods;
* cannot overburden the communication system or create significant additional cost to DoD or the DoD Component.
Local commanders, supervisors (and systems administrators) may restrict use of the e-mail systems for any of these reasons.
Consequently, when you use the Government e-mail system for ASMC business, make sure that use is of reasonable frequency and duration. Limit the volume of e-mails to your chapter membership, not the entire office or installation. Watch the size of attachments and consult your system administrator if you’re not sure. Crashing the system or clogging the pipes is a guaranteed – and legitimate – way to loose the privilege of sending ASMC related messages over Government e-mail. Finally, make sure the content of your ASMC e-mails is consistent with other provisions of the Joint Ethics Regulation and applicable directives. While there is little risk sending out notice of professional development activities, fund-raising events are subject to many limitations, some of them local. If you have any doubt at all, consult with your local JAG or civilian ethics attorney when organizing these events. Finally, feel free to contact the National Headquarters if you run into obstacles. We may not be able to solve the issue for you, but we will get you pointed in the right direction.