Section Overview and Policies
The purpose of this section is to emphasize awareness by State officers and employees of the requirements imposed by Advisory Opinion No. 08-04 (Advisory Opinion) issued by the New York State Commission on Public Integrity (the “Commission,” now succeeded by the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics). The Advisory Opinion addresses the personal use of supply vendor purchase rewards or points accumulated by State officers and employees as a result of their official duties [use of which is prohibited] and travel rewards or points [use of which may be permissible]. This section also recognizes the NET-Card, an administrative change brought about by the implementation of the Statewide Financial System (SFS).
Many vendors that do business with the State offer rewards or points for certain purchases that can be redeemed for other benefits, such as additional goods, services, or “cash back.” The vendor bestows the benefit, no matter how the payment is made – it may be by State-issued travel card, procurement card, voucher, petty cash, or any other approved method. As part of its continuous monitoring of payments, the Office of the State Comptroller has identified the need for State officers and employees to be reminded of the appropriate use of rewards accumulated while conducting State business.
Agencies should establish policies to ensure State officers and employees are in compliance with Commission Advisory Opinion No. 08-04.
Personal Use of Supply Vendor Reward Points
In the Advisory Opinion, the Commission concludes that a State officer or employee authorized to make purchases on behalf of his or her State agency - generally by use of a State-issued Procurement Card (P-Card) - may not accept rewards or points for personal use when such reward points are earned from the purchase of goods or services for the State agency. The Commission found that the availability of reward points offered by a particular vendor chosen by the State officer or employee could reasonably be viewed as influencing the decision of the State officer or employee in performing his or her State duties and responsibilities. Consequently, the accumulation and redemption of such points for personal use would violate the gifts bar of Public Officers Law §73(5) and also violate the rule with respect to conflicts of interest in §74, since the State officer or employee would have a financial interest in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest.
For example, a State officer or employee using his or her State P-Card to purchase groceries from a vendor that offers rewards or discounts is prohibited from using any accumulated rewards or discounts for personal benefit. This precludes using rewards or discounts for personal groceries, gasoline, or other benefits such as cents off for other items for personal use.
Personal Use of Travel Bonus and Rewards Points
The Commission further determined that a State officer or employee may, under certain circumstances, accept for personal use travel reward points and similar benefits received as a result of business travel related to his or her State employment.
For example, a State officer or employee using his or her State travel card (T-Card) to purchase lodging, while in travel status, from a vendor that offers rewards or discounts is permitted to use those rewards or discounts for lodging in the future for personal purposes.
Therefore, a State officer or employee may accept travel reward points since such points are broadly offered to the public, are not directly related to the official duties of the State officer or employee, do not reasonably appear to influence the official conduct or responsibility of the State officer or employee, and are provided at no additional cost to State government.
Personal Use of Travel Bonus and Rewards Points: Non-Employee Travel Card
In March 2012, the State of New York established a new Non-Employee Travel Card (NET-Card) Program for State employees who coordinate necessary State business-related travel for non-State employees on a regular basis (e.g., travel and lodging for University student-athletes or student-athletic trainers).
State employees with NET-Card privileges are responsible for all travel purchases made with the credit card, including providing the necessary documentation to reconcile all charges. NET-Cards are issued to the assigned State employee in his or her name, and the Cards also indicate the agency and purpose. NET-Cards must be separate and distinct from a T-Card that an individual State employee traveler would use to account for his or her State business travel expenses.
Although a NET-Card is used to purchase travel, its functionality is more like that of a P-Card, as the State employee can choose among travel vendors with the most profitable reward point programs to book multiple non-State employees’ travel and, in theory, attempt to use the rewards or points earned from these purchases for his or her personal benefit. Reward points and discounts earned from NET-Card purchases were not addressed in the Advisory Opinion as this Program was established in 2012, after the Opinion was issued. However, the logic of the restrictions set forth in Advisory Opinion No. 08-04 addressing supply vendor reward points appears to prohibit a State employee from using rewards or discounts - earned through usage of a NET-Card - for his or her own personal benefit.
If you have questions regarding the use of travel or purchase rewards programs, please contact the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics at (518) 408-3976, or visit their website at http://www.jcope.ny.gov.