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Number: DAO 202-251
Effective Date: 2004-07-02
  • Section 1. Purpose
  • Section 2. Background
  • Section 3. Coverage
  • Section 4. Definitions
  • Section 5. Associations of Managers and/or Supervisors
  • Section 6. Departmental Support and Privileges
  • Section 7. Restrictions and Limitations
  • Section 8. Procedures for Initial and Continuing Recognition
  • Section 9. Effect on Other Orders


This Order replaces DAO 202-707 issued on October 29, 1982, and provides Departmental policy, and the standards and procedures for recognition of and communication with voluntary employee organizations (VEOs) within the Department. The Order incorporates and provides procedures necessary for compliance with Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), Part 251.


5 C.F.R. 251 provides the framework for consulting and communicating with non-labor organizations representing Federal employees and with other organizations on matters related to agency operations and personnel management. The purposes of consultation and communication are: the improvement of agency operations, personnel management, and employee effectiveness; the exchange of information (e.g., ideas, opinions, and proposals); and the establishment of policies that best serve the public interest in accomplishing the mission of the Department. Historically, consultation and communication with Department-recognized employee organizations has been on an informal or ad hoc basis.


To be recognized by the Department for coverage by this Order, an association or organization must:

a. be a lawful, nonprofit organization whose constitution and/or bylaws indicate that it subscribes to minimum standards of fiscal responsibility and employs democratic principles in the nomination and election of officers;

b. be comprised only of current and/or retired employees of the Department of Commerce (DOC) in order to ensure that the association or organization is focused on improvements to the Department's activities (existing members who are not current or retired employees of the Department may retain membership status for a period not to exceed one calendar year from the effective date of this Directive);

c. not discriminate in terms of membership or treatment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. (Note: Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is also prohibited under authority of Executive Order 13087.)

d. not assist or participate in a strike, work stoppage, or slowdown against the Government of the United States, or any Federal agency or impose a duty or obligation to conduct, assist, or participate in such a strike, work stoppage, or slowdown; and

e. not advocate the overthrow of the constitutional form of Government for the United States.


a. Organizations representing Federal employees and other organizations means an organization other than a labor organization that can provide information, views, and services which will contribute to improved Department operations, personnel management, and employee effectiveness, and may include:

1. an association of Federal management officials and/or supervisors;

2. a group representing minorities, women, and persons with disabilities in connection with the Office of Civil Rights' programs and action plans;

3. a professional association;

4. a civic or consumer group; or

5. an organization concerned with special social interests or activities.

b. Association of management officials and/or supervisors means an association comprised of primarily Federal managers and/or supervisors, which is not eligible for recognition under Chapter 71 of Title 5 U.S. Code (U.S.C.) (labor organization), or comparable provisions of other laws, and which is not affiliated with a labor organization or federation of labor organizations.

c. Labor organization means an organization as defined in 5 U.S.C. 7103(a)(4), which is in compliance with 5 U.S.C. 7120, or as defined in comparable provisions of other laws.


The Department neither precludes nor discourages supervisory and/or management personnel from joining together in groups or associations as defined by this Order and in accordance with the provisions of 5 C.F.R., Part 251. The Department is obligated and committed to include supervisors and managers in the decision-making process and does so through various means to include staff meetings, and meetings with individual managers and supervisors not affiliated with an association.


The Department may support the efforts of VEOs recognized under the requirements of this Order, to the extent that the support provided will benefit organization members and the employees they represent. The mere provision of support to recognized VEOs may not be construed as Federal sponsorship, sanction, or endorsement of the organization or its activities. The description of and/or criteria for Departmental support are as follows:

a. Compliance with Law and Regulation. Any support provided must comply with applicable statutes and regulations.

b. Use of Government Equipment. Members of recognized VEOs may use Government telephone and Internet services in the same manner as is allowed for all employees pursuant to DOC policies. Use must not result in substantial cost to the Government. Use of Government equipment such as computers, printers, copiers and fax machines is limited to the preparation of papers to be presented at conferences or symposia, or published in journals, preparation of documentation of issues for organizational meetings or for presentation to DOC management, and preparation of financial accountability documents. Use of Government equipment does not include "all employee" broadcast e-mail; however, use of DOC e-mail to specifically inform official members of meeting dates and times is permitted.

c. Attendance at Meetings/Conferences at Government Expense. Members of recognized VEOs may be permitted to attend professional organization meetings and conferences at Government expense when the attendance is for the purpose of employee development or directly concerned with agency functions or activities and the Department can derive benefits from employee attendance. This means that approval for attendance is not automatic simply because the employee is a member of a VEO and the conference is directly related to the professional association of the VEO. Supervisors should request and review the agenda/syllabus for the requested conference to ensure that the employee's development or the Department's operations will benefit from the contents of the conference as described by the agenda/syllabus. Supervisors may approve requests to attend a professional organization meeting or conference only upon a determination that:

1. the Department's operations will benefit from the contents of the meeting or conference;

2. funds are available;

3. it is consistent with the developmental needs of the office and the employee;

4. the office and the employee's workload permit the absence; and

5. the additional factors listed below have been considered or addressed:

(a) Managers may at their discretion limit the total number of attendees permitted at a specific event if necessitated by mission needs, budget, or workload concerns to ensure equitable disbursement of funds for development among all employees, or a determination of limited employee development/Departmental benefit provided by the event's offerings.

(b) In cases where an organization or office must limit attendees at a specific event for reasons as referenced in paragraph (a) the VEOs requesting member attendance will work together and use democratic procedures to determine the specific attendees. When there is a conflict among the membership or among various VEOs, a lottery may be used to determine the attendees. All eligible members of VEOs requesting to attend will have their names placed in a container and a management representative designated by the servicing human resources manager will draw names until the target number has been reached. Substitutions will be made by additional names being drawn.

(c) Regardless of VEO membership, employees who cannot be spared from the workplace due to workload requirements; have a performance rating of marginal, unsatisfactory, or "does not meet" (two-level system); or are under a formal leave restriction will not be eligible for attendance at such events unless the supervisor, in consultation with the servicing human resources management office, determines that the event will have a direct remedial benefit on the employee's current performance. If an employee is currently under any medical restriction with regard to work, such as receiving workers' compensation, reasonable accommodation, etc., consultation with the servicing human resources management office is recommended prior to approval.

d. Leave for Attendance at Professional Meetings/Conferences. Employees may request to be absent using their personal leave to attend professional meetings at their own expense. Leave will be granted on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the attendance record of the requesting employee, his/her current work requirements and performance, and the office coverage needs of the work unit.

e. Use of Departmental Facilities for Meetings. Recognized VEOs may reserve and use Department facilities for meetings. The normal procedures for reserving specific space must be followed, and the VEO may not displace other reservations for any reason. The VEO may be displaced from its reservation only when there is a mission critical need to do so. Funding will not be provided for member transportation to these meetings.

f. Use of "Department of Commerce" in the Organization Name. Use of the name "Department of Commerce" or the operating unit (if organization is at that level) is permitted as long as its use may not be construed as Federal sponsorship, sanction, or endorsement of the organization or its activities.

g. Bulletin Boards. Use of officially designated Department or operating unit bulletin boards is permitted as long as such use does not violate the terms of any collective bargaining agreement. Procedures for use of the bulletin board must be developed locally and must include, at a minimum, a process for review and approval by a designated management official of all information prior to its posting on the bulletin board.

h. Use of Duty Time. Members/officers who meet the description in Section 6, paragraph c(5)(c) are not eligible for the use of duty time under this paragraph; the use of brief periods of duty time is allowed for others only as described below:

1. A general membership meeting of an association or organization may be allowed if requested once a year for approximately one hour of duty time for each member in attendance. Individual members must obtain advance permission from their supervisors to be absent from their work station at the specific date and time of the scheduled meetings.

2. Members of a recognized VEO who serve as officers or members of the "board of directors" or the equivalent, may be granted approximately one hour of duty time per month to conduct/attend meetings of the association/organization's governing body. The use of duty time must be approved in advance by individual supervisors.

3. A total of up to two hours of duty time per week for a minimal number of members/employees may be granted by the heads of operating units or Departmental offices to manage or conduct programs of the association/organization. Individual members must obtain advance permission from their supervisors to be absent from their work station at the specific date and time of the scheduled meetings or to perform the association/organization's work.

4. Normally up to two hours of duty time will be granted to attend scheduled meetings with management officials.

i. Employee Publications and Notices. The use of officially sponsored or recognized employee publications or notices is permitted as long as such use does not conflict with the provisions of 5 U.S.C. 7120 et. seq. and any collective bargaining agreement.


The activities of a VEO may not be represented directly or indirectly as being official activities of the Department or any organizational component or official of the Department. The organization's name, membership cards, and publicity must avoid any misleading implications or connotations of this nature. In addition, the following restrictions and limitations apply:

a. Conflict with Labor Organizations. Employee associations/organizations recognized under this Order may not engage in representational activities or negotiate with management officials on personnel matters or matters concerning the conditions of employment of bargaining unit employees as defined by 5 U.S.C. 7120 et. seq.

b. Use of Appropriated Funds. Appropriated funds may not be used for activities of VEOs, except when the VEO activity serves the same purpose(s) for which the appropriation is provided. If funds are available, and their use meets all the criteria of this Order, heads of operating units may approve the use of those funds to support the specific activity. Approval in one fiscal year does not imply continued approval in subsequent fiscal years.

c. Restrictions on Use of Duty Time. Members and/or officials of VEOs may not use duty time for any purpose except those specifically provided for under this Order.

d. Conflict of Interest or Position. Officials and members of a VEO must ensure that the conduct of their duties and activities does not give rise to the appearance of a conflict of interest or position or of unethical or discriminatory conduct. The same restrictions which apply to all Federal employees also apply when the employee is acting in the capacity of an official or member of a VEO. Such activities include but are not limited to:

1. soliciting or accepting anything of monetary value from a person who: (a) has or is seeking to obtain contractual or other business or financial relations with the DOC; (b) conducts operations or activities that are regulated by the DOC; or (c) has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties or by actions of DOC personnel.

2. acting as an agent or attorney for (or, if compensation is received, otherwise representing) an employee organization, including a child care center, regarding: (a) a claim against the United States Government; (b) a judicial or administrative proceeding in which the organization is a party; or (c) a grant, contract or other agreement (including a request for any such grant, contract or agreement), providing for the disbursement of Federal funds to the organization.

3. participating as a Government official in a matter that is likely to have a direct and predictable effect on the interests of an organization in which the employee serves as an officer or director.

4. participating as a Government official in a matter in which one of the parties is, or is represented by, an organization in which the employee is an active participant, if such participation is likely to create an appearance of loss of impartiality, unless the employee has received approval for participation from an authorized official based upon the needs of the agency. Employees/VEO members and officials who are concerned about the ethical implications of their activities should consult an ethics official in the Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Administration.

5. Employee Standards of Conduct. Members/officials of VEOs are held to the same standards of conduct to which they are held as Federal employees. Membership in the VEO does not confer protection from appropriate disciplinary action for violation of conduct standards.


Within 90 days from the effective date of this DAO, each VEO seeking recognition, including those previously recognized by the Department, must follow the procedures in this section. All previous recognitions will be cancelled at the end of this 90-day period.

a. VEOs seeking recognition by the Department must furnish the following information to the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM):

1. a dated copy of the organization's current bylaws and constitution that meets the criteria for non-discrimination and fiscal standards prescribed by the regulations and this Order, and

2. a dated listing of the organization's current officers including name, employing organization, work location (complete mailing address to include room number), work phone number, office held and term of office (date on which tenure expires). The policy contained in this Directive will not be interpreted to terminate a term of office prematurely, regardless of whether the incumbent is a current or retired DOC employee. Within one year from the effective date of this Directive, or by the next scheduled election, whichever comes first, an organization's officers must be current or retired DOC employees in order to be recognized by the Department.

b. Recognized organizations must submit the documents described above immediately in the event of any change in officials or constitution and/or by-laws and not later than January 31 of each year in order to maintain recognition. Official recognition is contingent upon compliance with these requirements.

c. OHRM will maintain the current list of recognized VEOs to include a roster of current officials on its web site.

d. Operating units should develop similar procedures for recognition of VEOs established at the local level, and must maintain current listings of recognition. OHRM may request and must be provided listings of locally recognized VEOs as needed.


This Order supersedes DAO 202-707, "Voluntary Employee Organizations," dated
October 29, 1982.

Signed by: Director for Human Resources Management

Approved by: Chief Financial Officer and
Assistant Secretary for Administration

Office of Primary Interest: Office of Human Resources Management

Questions and Comments

Send Questions or Comments on the Commerce Directives Management program to Directives@doc.gov.

Office of Privacy and Open Government
Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary for Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce


December 18, 2009