Feds: Put That NCAA Bracket Away and Get Back to Work

Xavier's Dee Davis shoots against North Carolina State's Beejay Anya in the first round of the NCAA tournament Tuesday. Xavier's Dee Davis shoots against North Carolina State's Beejay Anya in the first round of the NCAA tournament Tuesday. Al Behrman/AP

It’s mid-March, so it’s time to pony up some cash, make your high-analysis picks and submit your bracket for the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament.

Unless you are a federal employee.

John Mahoney, an attorney with the fed-friendly law firm Tully Rinckey, warned federal workers to stay away from the madness. The Office of Government Ethics prohibits federal workers from engaging in any gambling while on federally owned or leased property, or while on duty.

“It does happen in federal government,” said Mahoney, a former federal employee who has seen gambling in federal offices during the tournament. “It’s not something that should happen in federal government. It can really do damage to an employee’s career for something they think is just fun and games.”

OGE’s Standards of Conduct say a government employee “shall not conduct or participate in any gambling activity, including operating a gambling device, conducting a lottery or pool, participating in a game for money or property, or selling or purchasing a numbers slip or ticket.”

Federal offices should probably even avoid conducting a friendly pool conducted solely for bragging rights.

“It’s still pushing the boundary,” Mahoney said. “Even if money doesn’t change hands, they’re getting paid for filling out brackets when they should be working.” 

Federal workers could theoretically join a pool in their own time while off the clock, he added, though they would have to resist any temptation to check the updated standings while in the office.

Supervisors, who often turn a blind eye to, or participate in NCAA tournament pools, also should take precautions against pressuring employees or being complicit in their direct reports creating pools. In 2009, the Merit Systems Protection Board took action against a Labor Department supervisor who participated in March Madness gambling after a subordinate blew the whistle.

These days, federal employees might feel like everyone else is having all the fun

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