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Our oath to the United States of America: what distinguishes each of us who serves in the Executive Branch from all others--most importantly, contractor employees in the federal workplace--is our oath of office to the United States of America.

As Federal civil servants, we swear by our oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. As each of us is aware, our Constitution establishes our system of government, and actually defines the work role for Federal employees-"to establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty."

The history of the oath for Federal employees can be traced to the Constitution, where Article II includes the specific oath the President takes--to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Article VI requires an oath by all other government officials from all three branches, the military, and the States. It simply states that they "shall be bound by oath of affirmation to support the Constitution." The first law passed by he first Congress implemented Article VI by prescribing a simple oath in law: "I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States."

The wording we use today as Executive Branch employees is set forth in Chapter 33 of Title 5, United States Code. The wording dates to the Civil War in what was called the Ironclad Test Hath. Beginning in 1862, Congress required a two-part oath. The first part, referred to as a background check, affirmed that you neither supported nor had supported the Confederacy.

The second part addressed future performance, that is, what you would swear to do in the future. It established a clear, publicly sworn accountability. In 1873, Congress dropped the first part of the Ironclad Test Oath, and in 1884 adopted the wording we use today.

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

For enlisted Soldiers, the oath followed a separate historical path. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress established different oaths for the enlisted of the Continental Army.

The first oath, voted on 14 June 1775 as part of the act creating the Continental Army, read:

I--have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the said Army.

The original wording was effectively replaced by Section 3, Article 1, of the Articles of War approved by Congress on 20 September 1776, which specified that the oath of enlistment read:

I--swear (or affirm) to be trued to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them.

The first oath under the Constitution was approved by Act of Congress 29 September 1789 (Section 3, Chapter 25,1st Congress). It applied to all commissioned officers, noncommissioned officers and privates in the service of the United States. It came in two parts, the first of which read:

I--do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the constitution of the United States. The second part read: I--do solemnly swear or affirm to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me. The next section of that chapter specified: the said troops shall be governed by the rules and articles of war, which have been established by the United States in Congress assembled, or by such rules and articles of war as may hereafter by law be established.

The 1789 enlistment oath was changed in 1960 by amendment to Title 10, with the amendment (and current wording) becoming effective in 1962. The first of the two following oaths applies to enlisted, other than enlisted members serving in the National Guard. The second oath applies to enlisted members of the National Guard (Army or Air).

I--do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and de fend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

I--do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of (STATE NAME) against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of (STATE NAME) and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.

Although the enlisted oath remained unchanged until 1950, the officer oath has undergone substantial minor modification since 1789. A subsequent change approximately 40 years later read:

I,--, appointed a--in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.

Under an act of 2 July 1862 the oath became:

I--do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I have never borne arms against the United States since I have been a citizen thereof; that I have voluntarily given no aid, countenance, counsel, or encouragement to persons engaged in armed hostility thereto; that I have neither sought nor accepted nor attempted to exercise the functions of any office whatsoever under any authority or pretended authority in hostility to the United States; that I have not yielded voluntary support to any pretended government, authority, power, or constitution within the United States, hostile or inimical thereto. And I do further swear (or affirm) that, to the best of my knowledge and ability, I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.

An act of 13 May 1884 reverted to a simpler formulation:

I--do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

This version remained in effect until the 1959 adoption of the present wording:

I--having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of--do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; so help me God.

Implicit in our oath is our pledge to execute the laws of the United States of America. This pledge means, of course, that we must execute all the laws and implementing regulations-rather than simply those with which we may agree. One such regulation involves the 14 General Principles that apply to each of us serving in the Executive Branch. These General Principles, set forth at 5 Code of Federal Regulations, Section 2635.101 (b), provide assistance in determining whether a particular course of conduct by an officer or employee is proper. These General Principles provide:

1. Public Service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.

2. Employees shall not hold financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty.

3. Employees shall not engage in financial transactions using nonpublic Government information or allow the improper use of such information to further any private interest.

4. An employee shall not, except as [provided for by regulation], solicit or accept any gift or other item of monetary value from any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by the employee's agency, or whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's duties.

5. Employees shall put forth honest effort in the performance of their duties.

6. Employees shall not knowingly make unauthorized commitments or promises of any kind purporting to bind the Government.

7. Employees shall not use public office for private gain.

8. Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual.

9. Employees shall protect and conserve Federal property and shall not use it for other than authorized activities.

10. Employees shall not engage in outside employment or activities, including seeking or negotiating for employment, that conflict with official Government duties and responsibilities.

11. Employees shall disclose waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities

12. Employees shall satisfy in good faith their obligations as citizens, including all just financial obligations, especially those--such as Federal, State, or local taxes--that are imposed by law.

13. Employees shall adhere to all laws and regulations that provide equal opportunity for all Americans regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap.

14. Employees shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or ethical standards. Whether particular circumstances create an appearance that the law or these standards have been violated shall be determined from the perspective or a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts.

To assist us in determining the proper conduct to satisfy our official duties, as well as to ensure our compliance with the myriad laws and regulations that we are subject to, we must rely on the advice of our ethics counselors, as well as our own informed judgment. Our oath compels nothing less than absolute conformity to the Constitution of the United States of America. And nothing less will satisfy our duty to that oath.

Matt Reres

Matt Reres retired after 39 years of service with the Army in 2007. Mr. Reres now serves as a consultant, assisting public and private sectors with contracting, appropriations law, and ethics issues.
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Author:Reres, Matt
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Date:Sep 22, 2015
Words:1914
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