Monday, November 29, 2010

US Office of Governmental Ethics > Common Ethics Issues > Gifts From Outside Sources

"Gifts From Outside Sources

...employees are subject to restrictions on the gifts that they may accept
from sources outside the Government.

Generally they may not accept gifts that are given
because of their official positions
or that come from certain interested sources ("prohibited sources").

Prohibited sources include persons (or an organization made up of such persons) who --

are seeking official action by, are doing business or seeking to do business with,
or are regulated by the employee's agency, or

have interests that may be substantially affected by performance
or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.

In addition, an employee can never solicit or coerce the offering of a gift,
or accept a gift in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act.

Nor can an employee accept gifts so frequently
that a reasonable person might think that the employee
was using public office for private gain.

There are a number of exceptions to the ban on gifts from outside sources.

These allow an employee to accept --

a gift valued at $20 or less,
provided that the total value of gifts from the same person
is not more than $50 in a calendar year

a gift motivated solely by a family relationship or personal friendship

a gift based on an employee's or his spouse's outside business or employment relationships...

a gift provided in connection with certain political activities

gifts of free attendance at certain widely attended gatherings,
provided that the agency has determined that attendance is in the interest of the agency

modest refreshments (such as coffee and donuts), greeting cards,
plaques and other items of little intrinsic value

discounts available to the public or to all Government employees,
rewards and prizes connected to competitions open to the general public.

There are other exceptions, including exceptions for awards and honorary degrees,
certain discounts and other benefits, attendance at certain social events, and meals, refreshments and entertainment in foreign countries.

These exceptions are subject to some limitations on their use.

For example, an employee can never solicit or coerce the offering of a gift.

Nor can an employee use exceptions to accept gifts on such a frequent basis
that a reasonable person would believe that the employee
was using public office for private gain.

If an employee has received a gift that cannot be accepted,
the employee may return the gift or pay its market value.

If the gift is perishable (e.g. a fruit basket or flowers)
and it is not practical to return it, the gift may, with approval,
be given to charity or shared in the office.

Reference: 5 C.F.R. §§ 2635.201-205.

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