Conflict of Interests

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University Policy Number 4001

Categorized:

Responsible Office: , , ,

Policy Procedure:

  • Policy 4001 Procedures

Related Law & Policy:


I. Scope

This policy applies to all officers and employees of George Mason University (the “University”), including part-time employees, non-student wage employees, all faculty including adjunct faculty, and students on the University payroll. Commonwealth of Virginia ethics and conflict of interest laws apply to all employees. Federal law and policy imposes additional requirements on employees who receive funding from the federal government.

II. Policy Statement

 State and federal law require that all employees fully disclose “Personal Interests” that present a Conflict of Interest or commitment with one’s University responsibilities. This Policy is intended to assist employees to avoid non-compliance with state and federal statutes.

A Conflict of Interest is a situation in which a Personal Interest may compromise or bias an employee’s professional judgment and objectivity when performing research or making decisions on behalf of the University.

All employees (or their immediate family members) who work for a company (or have an ownership interest in a company meeting or exceeding state limitations) that seeks to do business with Mason must disclose that financial interest and have it evaluated for Conflicts of Interest. When a management plan is required by the circumstances, full and immediate compliance is essential to assure the integrity of university-sponsored research, teaching, outreach, and administrative activities.

 A conflict of commitment is a situation in which a member of the University community has a relationship that requires a commitment of time or effort to non-University activities, such that the individual, either implicitly or directly, may not be able to meet their obligations to the University. Employees must disclose such conflicts of commitment to their supervisors.

 A. General Employee Responsibilities

1. Employees shall disclose any Conflict of Interests or commitment. This includes Significant Financial Interests (SFIs) related to their University responsibilities when applying for federal funding. Employees shall not initiate any contract or transaction on behalf of the University or with the University in which a conflict exists until written approval is received from the appropriate University official.

2. No employee shall serve as the immediate supervisor or exercise sole authority to supervise, evaluate or make personnel decisions regarding a person related to them by Family or Marriage or an individual sharing the same household. Related by Family or Marriage means a person who is, by blood or marriage, an employee’s spouse, parent, child (including step-children), sibling, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or individual for whom an employee has been assigned legal responsibility or guardian.

3. Employees shall not use confidential information not available to the public and acquired through a University position for their own or another’s economic or personal benefit.

4. Instructional and research faculty must comply with the requirements of the Faculty Handbook <http://www.gmu.edu/resources/facstaff/handbook/> to disclose outside employment. Adjunct and affiliate faculty should disclose any outside employment that creates a conflict of interest. Classified staff, wage employees, and administrative/professional faculty may not engage in outside employment which:

  • Interferes with the employee’s regular responsibilities and duties; or
  • Results in any actual conflict or appearance of conflict with his or her University employment responsibilities; or
  • Results in a situation of unfair competition for the University (see policy 2227).

5. Involvement of students in faculty owned or managed companies can lead to potential problems. Any relationship of this nature should be thoroughly described in a specific management plan signed by the student, the faculty member, and reviewed and approved by the faculty member’s Dean.

B. Procurement

1. No employee having “official responsibility” for a procurement transaction (ability to somehow affect the purchase or lease of goods or services) shall participate in the procurement when the employee knows that:

a. He or she is also employed by the bidder, offeror, or contractor.

b. The employee, the employee’s partner, spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, or any other person living in the same household as the employee:

i. Holds a position with the bidder, offeror, or contractor; OR

ii. Is employed by the bidder, offeror, or contractor in a capacity involving substantial participation in the procurement transaction; OR

iii. Owns or controls an interest exceeding three percent (3%) of the business of the bidder, offeror, or contractor; OR

iv. Has a pecuniary interest (total compensation to include any and all direct compensation and/or benefits) with a value of over $5,000 per year in the bidder, offeror, or contractor; OR

v. Is negotiating, or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment with the bidder, offeror, or contractor.

c. In addition, as an employee’s pecuniary interest or ownership stake can change during the contract term, changes in personal interests of any value or type should be disclosed as soon as they are anticipated or occur.

2. No employee or former employee having official responsibility for procurement transactions shall accept employment with any bidder, offeror or contractor with whom he/she has dealt in an official capacity concerning procurement transactions for a period of one year after termination of the employee’s University employment. Exception: An exception is allowed if the employee or former employee notifies the Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance, the Vice President for Human Resources, and the Director of Purchasing in writing before starting the new position.

3. The University shall not purchase building materials, supplies or equipment for a University building or structure from any independent contractor who is providing architectural or engineering (non-construction) services to the University, or from any partnership, association or corporation in which the architect or engineer has a personal interest, except in cases of emergency (as defined in Virginia Code section 2.2-4303) and when authorized in writing by the Vice President, Facilities.

C. Contracts

1. No employee shall have a Personal Interest in a contract with the University other than one’s own contract of employment. [1]

2. No employee shall have a Personal Interest in a contract with any other State Agency, unless the contract is awarded through a competitive process as defined by the Virginia Public Procurement Act.

D. Transactions

1. A Transaction is any matter considered by the University or one of its subdivisions on which official action is taken or contemplated.

2. A Personal Interest in a Transaction is a Personal Interest of an officer or employee in any matter considered by his agency. Such Personal Interest exists when an officer or employee or a member of her or his immediate family has a Personal Interest in property or a business or governmental agency, or represents or provides services to any individual or business and such property, business or represented or served individual or business (a) is the subject of the transaction or (b) may realize a reasonably foreseeable direct or indirect benefit or detriment as a result of the action of the agency considering the transaction.

3. Each employee shall disqualify him or herself from representing the University in a “Transaction” and disclose this fact when he or she has a “Personal Interest in the Transaction.” In this situation, the employee will not vote or represent the University in the “Transaction,” and the University will record the disqualification in writing. For non-purchasing-related activities, even after disqualifying oneself, the employee may still represent herself or himself, spouse, or any relative in the “Transaction.” The employee must not be compensated for this representation.

4. If an employee’s disqualification leaves less than the required number of persons needed to act on the “Transaction,” the remaining members will have authority to act by majority vote or unanimous vote of the remaining members, as required. If action is taken when these above conditions are not met, the University may rescind the action.

E. Gifts

1. Employees of the University shall not solicit or accept money or anything of value:

a. For performing official duties (salary and remuneration for actual expenses excepted),

b. That might reasonably tend to influence the discharge of official duties, or

c. For obtaining employment, an appointment, a promotion, a privilege, or a contract with the University.

2. An employee of the University shall not accept:

a. A business or professional opportunity for financial benefit, if the employee knows or should know that the opportunity is offered to influence the performance of official duties, or

b. A business or personal trip paid for by a bidder, offeror, or contractor, for any reason whatsoever, without first obtaining written approval from the appropriate university official. See Procedures for more details on this process and exceptions.

3. An employee with authority to conduct or influence the buying of goods or services for the University must not solicit or accept any gift, payment, loan or anything else, other than miscellaneous items bearing advertising, (such as rulers, note pads, etc.) from a bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor. This rule does not prohibit employees from buying goods or services, or obtaining loans, for their personal use where they pay equal consideration for them; nor does it prohibit employees from accepting meals or beverages from bidders, offerors, or contractors when offered to a large group of people at a trade show, exhibit or other professional meeting.

F. Federally Funded Research

1. This Section applies to any employee responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of any research funded by a Federal agency as a Principal or Co-Investigator, a Project Director, or Senior Personnel ( “Investigator”). Public Health Service (PHS)-funded research is subject to additional requirements, see PHS Appendix. The Office of Research is responsible for the overall administration of this Section including appointing the Committee, receiving and reviewing disclosures, and maintaining records.  The Provost is responsible for review of appeals and disciplinary actions under this Section. The Vice President for Research is the Designated Official for George Mason University.

2. Investigator Disclosure Requirements

a. Investigators who apply for any federally funded research must disclose their known SFIs (and those of his or her spouse and/or dependent children) related to their Institutional Responsibilities

b. As a part of the University’s application for federal funds, each Investigator must certify (1) that he or she has no such interests or (2) that he or she has such interests and has disclosed them through the institution’s disclosure process. The Office of Sponsored Programs and the Research Development, Integrity and Assurance (RDIA) Office maintains custody of Investigator disclosures and/or certifications.

c. Certifications and any required disclosures must be provided prior to the University’s submission of an application for federal funds. If the application results in the University’s receipt of federal funds, each Investigator who participates in the funded research must update his or her certification and any required disclosures annually or within 30 days if a new reportable SFI is obtained. During this disclosure, Investigators must update the value of all previously disclosed SFIs.

d. Investigators are not required to disclose the following:

i. Salary, royalties, or other remuneration paid by the University to the Investigator if the Investigator is currently employed or otherwise appointed by the University, including intellectual property rights assigned to the University and agreements to share in royalties related to such rights;

ii. Income from investment vehicles, such as mutual funds and retirement accounts, as long as the Investigator does not directly control the investment decisions made in these vehicles;

iii. Income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by a federal, state, or local government agency, an institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a); an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education; or

iv. Income from service on advisory committees or review panels for federal, state, or local government agencies, or an institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a), an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education.

3. Disclosure Review Process

a. Disclosures of SFIs related to institutional obligations are reviewed by the RDIA Office then referred to the Conflict of Interest Committee (Committee) as appropriate. The Committee is appointed by the Vice President for Research from among administrators, faculty, Deans and Directors. In addition the Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance designates one member for appointment to the Committee.

b. The Committee reviews disclosures and advises the Vice President for Research as to whether a financial conflict of interest or commitment related to federally funded research exists. If the Committee believes such a conflict exists, it also may work directly with the Investigator(s) to develop appropriate management plan(s).  The RDIA Office notifies the Office of Sponsored Programs and the Investigator’s Dean or Institute Director of this determination.

4. Managing Conflicts of Interest or Commitment

a. If a conflict of interest or commitment related to federally funded research exists, the Committee, in cooperation with the Investigator, develops a management plan to ensure that the conflict is managed, reduced or eliminated, and provides the recommended plan to the Vice President for Research. A management plan generally provides for compliance reviews at reasonable intervals. The Vice President for Research and the Investigator must agree to the management plan prior to the institution’s expenditure of any funds under the award.  If the Investigator objects to a plan proposed by the Vice President for Research, he or she may appeal the terms of the plan to the Provost, whose decision is final.  If the Investigator does not agree with the Provost’s decision, the University will not accept the award.  The RDIA Office will maintain custody of the agreed-upon management plan and provides a copy of the plan to the Investigator’s Dean or Institute Director or that individual’s designee.

b. At a minimum, the management plan will describe the role and principal duties of the conflicted Investigator in the research project; conditions of the management plan; how the management plan is designed to safeguard objectivity in the research project; confirmation of the Investigator’s agreement to the management plan through signature; how the management plan will be monitored to ensure Investigator compliance and other information as needed.

c. The Investigator’s Dean or Institute Director or that individual’s designee, is responsible for monitoring the Investigator’s compliance with the terms of the agreed-upon management plan. If the plan provides for periodic compliance reviews, the Dean, Institute Director or designee prepares a report of the review and sends a copy of the report to the RDIA Office.

d. An Investigator may agree to reduce or eliminate a conflict of interest or commitment prior to initiating federally funded research. If this occurs, the Committee may determine that a conflict of interest no longer exists and therefore does not require further management.

5. The following definitions apply only to this section (Section II.F.) of the policy:

a. “Financial Conflict of interest” (FCOI) means a significant financial interest (SFI) directly and significantly affecting the design, conduct, or reporting of the federally funded research.

b. “Institutional Responsibilities” means an Investigator’s professional responsibilities on behalf of the University, and as defined by the University, including but not limited to, activities such as research, research consultation, teaching, professional practice, institutional committee memberships, and service on panels such as Institutional Review Boards and Safety Monitoring Boards and other responsibilities as defined by the University.

c. “Investigator” means the Principal Investigator, co-Investigator and any other person, regardless of title or position, who is independently responsible for the design, conduct or reporting of federally funded research. The Lead Investigator on each project will identify all other Investigators independently responsible for the design, conduct or reporting of the project.

d. “Manage” means to take action to address a FCOI, which can include reducing or eliminating the FCOI, to ensure, to the extent possible, that the design, conduct, and reporting of research will be free from bias.

e. “Senior Personnel” means the Principal Investigator, Project Director, and any other Investigator identified as Senior/Key Personnel by the University in the proposal, progress report, or any other report submitted to the funding agency by the University.

f. “Significant Financial Interest” means a financial interest consisting of one or more of the following interests of the Investigator and/or those of the Investigator’s spouse and dependent children) that reasonably appears to be related to the Investigator’s institutional responsibilities:

i. With regard to any publicly traded entity, a SFI exists if the value of any remuneration received from the entity in the twelve months preceding the disclosure certification and the value of any equity interest in the entity as of the date of disclosure certification, when aggregated, exceeds $5,000. For purposes of this definition, remuneration includes salary and any payment for services not otherwise identified as salary (e.g., consulting fees, honoraria, paid authorship); equity interest includes any stock, stock option, or other ownership interest, as determined through reference to public prices or other reasonable measures of fair market value;

ii. With regard to any non-publicly traded entity, a SFI exists if the value of any remuneration received from the entity in the twelve months preceding the disclosure, when aggregated, exceeds $5,000, or when the Investigator and/or the Investigator’s spouse or dependent children) hold any equity interest (e.g., stock, stock option, or other ownership interest); or

iii. Intellectual property rights and interests (e.g., patents, copyrights), upon receipt of income related to such rights and interests.

III. Definitions

A. “Official Responsibility” – Administrative or operating authority, whether intermediate or final, to initiate, approve, disapprove, or affect a procurement transaction or any resulting claim.

B. “Exercising control over the employment or employment activities” – This concept includes, but is not limited to, making decisions regarding initial appointment, retention, promotion, tenure, salary, leave of absence, and evaluation. This concept does not include academic or scientific conduct of instruction or research. The instructor or Principal Investigator of a research project is responsible for the academic or scientific work and for technical leadership.

C. “Contract” – Any agreement to which a governmental agency is a party, or any agreement on behalf of a governmental agency that involves the payment of money appropriated by the General Assembly or a political subdivision, whether or not such agreement is executed in the name of the Commonwealth, or some political subdivision thereof. “Contract” includes a subcontract only when the contract of which it is a part is with the officer’s or employee’s own governmental agency.

D. “Personal Interest in a Contract” – Being a party to a contract or having a “Personal Interest” in the firm, corporation, partnership, or other business entity which is a party to the contract.

E. “Personal Interest” – A financial benefit or liability of an employee, or Immediate Family member, if such benefit or liability is included in one of the categories outlined below:

a. Ownership interest in a business which exceeds three percent (3%) of the equity of the business;

b. Annual income that exceeds, or may reasonably be anticipated to exceed, $5,000 from ownership in property or in a business;

c. Salary or benefits paid by a business or governmental agency which exceeds, or may reasonably be anticipated to exceed, $5,000 annually;

d. Ownership of real or personal property which exceeds $5,000;

e. Liability incurred or assumed on behalf of a business, which exceeds three percent (3%) of the asset value of the business; OR

f. An option for ownership of a business or real or personal property if the ownership interest will consist of clause (a) or (d) above.

F. “Immediate Family” means (i) a spouse and (ii) any person who resides in the same household as the officer or employee and who is a dependent of the officer or employee.

IV. Compliance

A. Penalties and Remedies- Code of Virginia

The University expects its employees to comply fully and promptly with the Policy stated herein in Sections II A.-E. Breaches of the disclosure process, including (a) failures to comply with such process, whether by virtue of an employee’s refusal to respond or by his or her responding with incomplete or knowingly inaccurate information, (b) failures to remedy conflicts, and (c) failures to comply with a prescribed management plan, will be forwarded to the appropriate University unit for investigation and appropriate action as follows:

1. Any employee who knowingly violates the provisions of Virginia Code §2.2-3100 et. seq. or §2.2-4300 et. seq. is guilty of a misdemeanor, and may be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced up to a year in jail. Any employee may NOT be prosecuted if PRECEDING the conflict action:

a. The employee made full disclosure of the facts, AND

b. The employee relied on a written opinion by the Attorney General or the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council stating his or her actions did not violate the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act.

2. If convicted for this violation, the employee shall, in addition to any other fine or penalty provided by law, forfeit his or her employment. In addition, any employee who violates the requirements of this policy may otherwise be disciplined by the University.

3. Employees who violate outside employment requirements detailed in Section II. A. 4 by not obtaining prior written approval from their supervisor and other institutional officers as required in this policy regarding outside interests may be required to take annual leave equivalent to the amount of unapproved time used for outside employment, repay the University for time paid but used on outside employment, or otherwise disciplined by the University.

B. Penalties and Remedies- Federally Funded Research (Section II.F)

Failure to comply with Section II.F will result in the following consequences and may result in the imposition of other sanctions under established university procedures:

1. If an Investigator fails to provide a financial conflict of interest certification or fails to disclose an SFI, the University does not submit the relevant application for federal funding or withdraws the application, as appropriate.

2. If an Investigator does not agree to an acceptable plan to manage, reduce, or eliminate a financial conflict of interest or commitment that is found to exist, the University will not expend funds under the relevant award.

3. If an Investigator fails to disclose a reportable SFI that creates a conflict requiring a management plan, the Investigator may be barred from participating in federally funded research for a period determined by the Vice President for Research, subject to the review of the Provost.

4. If an Investigator fails to comply with a material term of an approved management plan, the University may take any action relating to the award that is permitted by its terms and may pursue sanctions against the Investigator.  In pursuing sanctions, the University applies the procedures comparable to an “investigation” and administrative actions in University Policy Number 4007 – Misconduct in Research and Scholarship.

 V. Training

A. All employees will be provided training on this policy upon hire. Additionally, individuals required to file a Statement of Economic Interest must complete Commonwealth of Virginia mandatory training every two years and individuals proposing PHS funding must complete training on the PHS COI requirements every four years.

 VI. Tracking

A. Compliance, Diversity and Ethics shall be responsible for tracking and storage of all approved waivers.

B. Compliance, Diversity and Ethics shall be responsible for sending out a master list to all relevant stakeholders, at the start of each fiscal year, that details active waivers and their expiration date, if applicable.

C. The RDIA Office shall be responsible for reporting conflict of interest information to federal agencies as applicable.

 VII. Forms

1. Management Plan Template

2. Waiver Request Form

3. Request for Outside Employment Form

VIII. Dates:

A. Effective Date:

This policy will become effective upon the date of approval by the Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance and Provost.

B. Date of Most Recent Review:

2/22/2017

 IX. Timetable for Review

This policy, and any related procedures, shall be reviewed every three years or more frequently as needed.

X. Signatures

Approved:

_/S______________________
Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance

_/S_______________________
Provost and Executive Vice President

Originally approved: July 28, 2005

Revision Approved: 10/02/09

Revision Approved: 2/22/2017

 

[1] See Procedures for exceptions.