Today at Berkeley Lab

Got Side Hustle? Why You Need to Have Your Outside Consulting Gig Reviewed

This is Part One in a three-part Conflict of Interest series intended to help Berkeley Lab employees understand their responsibilities with regards to outside employment, commercializing Lab technology, and financial decisions they may influence (or appear to influence) as a Lab official.

Want help navigating the conflict of interest/recusal process? This site takes you through the decision process.

Bill Jagust’s research on aging of the brain focuses on understanding Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. His research program merges advanced brain imaging capabilities at Berkeley Lab with academic research at UC Berkeley.

But his research success presents a conundrum. He’s often asked by pharmaceutical companies to consult on clinical trials. Because he’s a Lab employee, he’s required to go through a Lab review process to make sure his outside consulting work doesn’t cross the boundaries set by both DOE’s and UC Berkeley’s conflict of interest rules.

Why? “It stems from our fiduciary and stewardship responsibilities to the taxpayers who enable our important work,” says Lab Chief Counsel Jeff Blair. “In short, there is strong public policy that precludes those who serve in positions of public trust from personally gaining – financially or otherwise – through their relationship with and access to federally funded facilities such as Berkeley Lab.”

“In Bill’s case, for example, he can’t use Lab resources or facilities for his personal consulting business, and the Lab has a formal process for reviewing each outside activity request to ensure the Lab adheres to these important policy principles,” says Blair.  These principles are firmly embedded in federal and California law as well as in the Lab’s contract with the DOE.

UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab both have restrictions on employees engaging in outside work, but Berkeley Lab’s conflict of interest rules are more stringent. All Lab employees, including those with UC Berkeley or other university affiliations, must abide by the following protocols:

  • Berkeley Lab is subject to DOE rules, which means employees must disclose and receive advance permission for outside employment.
  • Berkeley Lab’s Conflict of Interest committee reviews employees’ outside work to ensure that employees are avoiding:
    • Making or participating in decisions in which they or their family members have a material financial interest (i.e., they can’t participate in negotiations with the Lab on behalf of a company that is licensing their technology)
    • Excessive commitment of time to outside activities
    • Unfair competitive advantage with members of the public
    • Anything that could appear to subject DOE to public criticism or embarrassment
  • When employees have dual UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab appointments, as in the case of Jagust, they must abide by both Berkeley Lab and University of California rules and processes.

“My work here between UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab is seamless — we’re able to use sophisticated technology at LBNL that’s at the forefront of what’s happening in the field,” says Jagust, a faculty senior scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Biosciences division who also has appointments at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. “These technologies have drifted out into the world of clinical trials, and they’ve been very informative in terms of how companies are testing new therapies for Alzheimers disease.”

Jagust’s use of Lab facilities is paid for by National Institute of Health (NIH) grants. He’s the principal investigator on the grants, which are administered by Berkeley Lab and charged full overhead rates. Even though his consulting work requires only a few hours each month and an occasional trip, each time Jagust engages in a new consulting contract he goes through Berkeley Lab’s review process. As an NIH principal investigator, he and Berkeley Lab must disclose any potential conflict, such as his work with pharmaceutical companies. “It’s a bit of a pain to fill out the paperwork, but the process is now much smoother because it is online.”

Reporting and approval requirements apply to all employees, including faculty and rehired retirees, regardless of the percent of time an individual is employed at LBNL; these rules also apply during periods of work deferment. This process is not required for outside work clearly unrelated to an employee’s Berkeley Lab role, such as retail sales, ranching, residential real estate sales, etc. Employees who need to report outside work can use this link to access the online Compensation for Outside Professional Activity form. If employees need help getting started, they can reference the Getting Started with a Compensated Outside Professional Activity link.

For questions about conflict of interest issues, please contact Molly Stoufer.