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Government E-mail Ethical Pitfalls

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- E-mail has become one of the most powerful tools we use to help Airmen accomplish their mission.

However, as the use of e-mail becomes routine at the office and in our homes, too many of us are confusing appropriate use of government e-mail with inappropriate use.

Here are two examples of common scenarios each of us may encounter.

Tech. Sgt. Smith is the supervisor of a large office. One day he is approached by a civilian friend who tells him about the Favre Out of Minnesota Organization. FOMO is a charity that provides services to needy families in Mississippi in an attempt to convince Brett Favre, quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, to stay in Mississippi and out of Minnesota. Sergeant Smith, a huge Green Bay Packers fan, thinks this is a great idea and decides to join a local FOMO chapter. He decides to make a trip to Mississippi to mow the lawns of needy families and sends out an e-mail to his office telling them about the organization and asking for donations for his trip.

Capt. Banks is new to her unit and wants to establish a good name. She decides to volunteer at the Unit Morale Group, a private organization that raises money to pay for fun off-duty unit events. The captain decides that it would be great for morale and productivity if the unit had a free soda machine donated from the group. To pay for the machine she organizes a car wash then sends out an e-mail to everyone in the squadron telling them about the car wash and the plan for the soda machine.

Is there anything wrong with either of these e-mails? Unfortunately yes. These e-mails are improper because they use a government resource, e-mail, to raise funds for private organizations.

According to DOD 5500.7-R, the Joint Ethics Regulation, government communications resources should be used for official or authorized uses only.

This restriction is further tightened by the Code of Federal Regulations and multiple AFIs which limit the use of government resources for fundraising purposes.

As a result, before using e-mail to advertise a fundraiser, contact your legal office and see if your organization has been approved by the installation commander to use email for fundraising purposes.

In our examples, the e-mails being sent support fundraisers by FOMO and the Unit Morale Group, both of which are private organizations. It does not matter that sergeant Smith is not passing the money on to the organization or that the Unit Morale Group is raising money which will be used to benefit the Air Force, the rules still apply and limit the ability to raise funds using e-mail.

So how are we supposed to support all of the great things that our airmen are doing if we cannot use our e-mail?

While the choice of communication tools is out of our hands, we still possess the ability to support a vibrant base community. Prior to the advent of e-mail, private organizations spread the word of exciting events by word of mouth.

It is often said that we work in a "small Air Force." We need to use this trait to our advantage. Sending out a mass e-mail is easy, but too often mass e-mails are ignored or end up tying up bandwidth and inbox space.

Next time, skip the electronic network and use the people network. Tell your First Sergeant about a fundraiser you know of and ask if she can spread the word as she moves among the unit. Ask your commander if you can make a quick statement at the next commander's call. Tell your buddy to tell two of their buddies and before you know all 10,000 of us will know.

Not only will your message get out, but you will get recognized for your efforts and have the opportunity to meet more members of the greatest Air Force in the world.

E-mail is a wonderful tool, but it is a tool we need to use properly. Before you send out your next e-mail blast stop for a moment and think about what exactly you are doing. Is this an e-mail about Air Force news or events, or is this e-mail supporting a non-Air Force fundraiser?

E-mail ethics may seem like an annoyance at first, but with a little bit of creativity we can all do what we need to do and make sure we protect the image and integrity of the 129th Rescue Wing.

If you have any questions about the use of government e-mail, please contact the 129th RQW Legal Office.