Conflict of Interest

University faculty and staff are subject to a variety of conflict of interest laws, regulations, and requirements depending on their official duties for the University and external financial relationships.  This website provides general information, references, and resources to assist you in meeting your personal obligations to comply with conflict of interest requirements as they related to procurement activities; it is not intended as legal advice and should not be construed as such.  Any questions regarding interpretation and application of laws and regulations should be directed to the responsible federal or state government office.  

A conflict of interest is defined in University policy as the "real or apparent interference of one person's interest with the interest of another person, where potential bias may occur due to prior or existing personal or professional relationships."  From an organizational perspective, this includes situations where a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official University capacity. As public employees, University employees are charged with stewardship of public funds; therefore it is our responsibility to appropriately identify and manage both real and apparent conflicts of interest in order to preserve the public trust. 

The primary responsibility is on the individual employee to know, understand, and fulfill their personal compliance obligations with regard to conflicts of interest. The University's role under Commonwealth laws and regulations is principally to provide mechanisms by which employees may make appropriate disclosures and establish clear procedures for review, approval/disapproval, and reporting of certain types of conflicts to the Commonwealth. University policy FIN-054, Employee Obligation to Report Potential Conflicts of Interest, provides references to the various requirements and resources. 

Procurement- or Vendor-Related Conflicts of Interest

The following are examples of common situations in which you, as a University employee, should determine your obligations to either disclose and/or recuse yourself from participation in procurement activities:

  • If you have purchasing authority for the University (e.g., vendor selection, negotiation or payment authorization) and want to contract with a business in which you or an immediate family member holds a financial interest (e.g., ownership and/or equity).
  • If your spouse or other immediate family member contracts to provide consulting services to the University.

While the situations listed above indicate a need for further evaluation, the underlying action may not be prohibited due to various value-based ($) thresholds and exceptions described in the underlying requirements.  It is important to note that the thresholds, exceptions, and definitions for key terms are not consistent among the various requirements. Just because one set of requirements allows (or does not explicitly prohibit) an action does not mean that it will be allowable under the others. 

If you determine that you need to disclose a procurement- or vendor-related personal interest, complete the Conflict of Interest Disclosure Form and submit it as directed on the form. 

FIN-054, Employee Obligation to Report Potential Conflicts of Interest, contains links to the Commonwealth laws, regulations and resources available to assist you in determining the regulations that are applicable to your specific procurement- or vendor-related circumstance.  The policy and the Conflict of Interest page maintained by the University Compliance Office also provide information about other types of real or apparent conflicts of interest that may exist between your personal interests (or those of your immediate family members) and your official duties as a university employee.

Gifts to Individuals

Commonwealth conflict of interest rules often also prohibit the solicitation, offer, and acceptance of gifts. While University policy FIN-054, Employee Obligation to Report Potential Conflicts of Interest, addresses disclosure requirements, FIN-019, Acceptance of Gifts and Special Benefits from Vendors, details University expectations regarding the solicitation and acceptance of gifts from vendors.  The following are examples of common scenarios that, if accepted, could constitute a prohibited gift:

  • If a supplier offers to give a University employee a benefit (e.g., a certificate for free attendance at a future professional development course) in exchange for getting a certain number of other University employees to attend as paid registrants. 
  • If a local restaurant offers a University employee a gift certificate for a dinner for two as a thank-you gift for arranging to hold their department Holiday party at the restaurant.
  • If a University employee is travelling to a current or potential supplier's facility on approved business travel (e.g., to inspect a medical device the University is considering purchasing) and the supplier offers to pay for the employee's spouse to accompany them on the trip.

Gifts that are allowable may still be subject to a disclosure requirement.  As with potential conflicts of interest, it is the employee's responsibility to assess each situation and determine their responsibilities.