Use of Official Title or Stationery for Letters of Recommendation
This document applies to letters of recommendation NOT involving Visa support. See Letters in Support of Visa Actions.
Official title and stationery may be used to respond to a request from an individual who seeks an employment recommendation or character reference if
- the individual being recommended is seeking Federal employment, OR
- the NIH employee has dealt with the individual being recommended in the course of Federal employment,
- the NIH employee has personal knowledge of the ability or character of the individual making the request.
Official Title and Stationery May Be Used:
- to write a letter recommending an individual seeking to work for NIH or another Government agency;
- to write a letter recommending NIH colleagues regardless of the colleague's U.S. citizenship status, e.g., a reference letter for employment.;
- to write a letter recommending individuals the NIH employee is acquainted with because of Federal liaison activity or other official duty service with outside organizations;
EXAMPLE. An NIH employee served on a planning committee for a scientific conference co-sponsored by NIH and AMA. A non-Federal member of this planning committee requests a letter of recommendation from the NIH employee. The employee may write such a letter on official stationery with official title, only if, as a result of the committee work, the NIH employee has personal knowledge of the ability or character of the non-Federal member. It is clear that the NIH employee has dealt with the non-Federal member in the course of Federal employment.
- to write a letter recommending a person who is applying to a potential non-Federal employer the supervisor would determine that responding to such a request is part of the NIH employee's official duties when the employee has not dealt with the individual being recommended in the course of the employee's Federal employment.
- For letters regarding visa applications, see Visa Letters.
Official Title and Stationery May Not Be Used:
- to write a letter recommending a personal friend;
- to write a letter recommending a relative;
- to write a letter recommending a person who is applying to a potential non-Federal employer if the supervisor determines that responding to such a request is not part of the NIH employee's official duties;
- to write a letter recommending a grant applicant in support of a grant application to the NIH or another Federal agency;
NOTE: Such a letter may violate the anti-representation statutes. NIH employees may write representing their own opinions regarding an applicant if they are personally familiar with the applicant (e.g., former student). NIH employees must write on personal stationery and send the letter directly to the applicant (not to the proposed funding source). NIH employees may not urge any actions (e.g., funding) nor make any statements regarding the proposed application (e.g., encourage support). Writing even this type of personal letter may not be appropriate for extramural staff.
- to write a letter recommending a colleague who is not seeking Federal employment or with whom with NIH employee has not dealt with in the course of Federal employment;
EXAMPLE. Prior to coming to NIH, an employee taught at a university. A former student has just graduated and is seeking a job with the university. The former student asks for a letter of recommendation from the NIH employee. The NIH employee may NOT write such a letter on official stationery with official title. The former student is not seeking Federal employment nor has the NIH employee dealt with the former student in the course of Federal employment.
What if during the time the employee is at NIH, the student worked with the employee to edit a manuscript? In this case, assuming the employee worked on the manuscript as part of official duties, the employee may write a letter recommending the student and may use official stationery and the NIH employee's official title because the NIH employee has dealt with the student during the course of Federal employment.
EXAMPLE. An Institute Director is asked to write a letter recommending a colleague for a fellowship. The Director can do so and use official stationery and official title only if the Director dealt with the colleague in the course of Federal employment and the fellowship is from a private (non-Federal) source.
- to write a letter recommending a contractor, vendor, or supplier of goods or services;
NOTE: This raises issues of endorsement and preferential treatment by the NIH. Such letters are used by these entities to advertise and promote their products and services and to obtain future business. NIH employees may write about a contractor's progress/performance in the course of an official evaluation of the contract, but may not recommend that others use the vendor's services or good.
EXAMPLE. A contracting officer in OD attends a course on procurement integrity. NIH contracted for the course with Management Concepts, Inc. The contracting officer really enjoyed the course. The contracting officer may write a letter recommending the course on personal stationery and sign her name "Mary Smith" ? She may only refer to her NIH position as one of several biographical details in the body of her personal letter and make it clear that she is writing in her personal capacity. For example, she may say "As a government contracting office, I found the course very accurate and presented in a useable manner." This gives Mary Smith the credibility to make the recommendation without endorsing the course officially. See below.
- to write a letter recommending an individual for academic tenure when "personal knowledge" of the individual is limited to the NIH employee's handling of that individual's grant.
NOTE: An NIH employee may use official title and stationery to write a letter which simply details the individual's funding history.
In circumstances where official title and stationery may not be used, the NIH employee may refer to their NIH position in the body of a personal letter as one of several biographical details so long as it is clear that the employee is writing in their personal capacity. The employee should state that the recommendation reflects his or her personal opinion and is not the opinion of the NIH/IC.
For additional information, contact your IC's Ethics Officials (see links below).