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GIFTS




Under the ethics regulation, a gift is anything that has monetary value which you obtain for less than "market value."   The gift might be tangible or intangible. A gift may include, but is not limited to, a gratuity, favor, discount, cash, gift certificate, gift card , entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value.  It also applies to services, training, transportation, travel, lodging, and meals.  See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(b).

Market value is the retail price that you, the recipient of the gift, would have to pay to purchase it.  If you cannot readily determine the retail value of a gift, you may estimate its value by reference to the retail cost of items of similar quality.  If a ticket entitles you to food, refreshments, entertainment, or any other benefit, the market value is the face value printed on the ticket.

The Standards define a prohibited source as any "person" (see 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(d) who:

  1. Is seeking official action by the employee's agency;
  2. Does business or seeks to do business with the employee's agency;
  3. Conducts activities regulated by the employee's agency;
  4. Has interests that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties; or
  5. Is an organization, a majority of whose members are described in paragraphs (d) (1) through (4) of this

Gifts from Domestic and Private Sources - 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202

As a general rule, you may not, directly or indirectly, solicit or accept a gift:

1.  From a prohibited source; or
2.  If it is given because of your official position.

A "prohibited source" includes any person, company, or organization that has business with your agency, is seeking to do business with your agency, conducts operations that are regulated by your agency, or has any interests that might be affected by the performance or nonperformance of your official duties   For the purposes of these rules, the Department is broken down into the following components:

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • Bureau of Reclamation (BOR)
  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)
  • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)
  • National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC)
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) (Including the Office of Indian Education Programs)
  • National Park Service (NPS)
  • Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE)
  • Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST)
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
  • U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
  • The remainder of the Department (including the Office of the Secretary, Office of the Solicitor, Office of Inspector General, and the Immediate office of each Assistant Secretary)

If you work for a named component, for example, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), then your "agency" for purposes of the gift rule, is BIA, which is within DOI.

For instance, a company whose only involvement with the Department and its employees is that it conducts activities regulated by BLM would only be a prohibited source for a BLM employee - not an employee of any other named component.

However, "agency" for purposes of the gift rules for employees attached to a Departmental Office (such as Office of the Solicitor, the Office of the Inspector General), encompasses the entire Department.  For example, the same company that only conducts activities regulated by BLM would be a prohibited source for an employee of the Office of the Solicitor, the Office of Inspector General, etc., too.

EXCLUSIONS - Some Things Just Aren't Gifts - 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203

Certain items are excluded from the definition of gift and you may accept them pursuant to certain specific regulator exemptions.

  • Snacks (coffee, donuts, other modest food items not offered as part of a meal)
  • Greeting cards, plaques, certificates, or trophies (items of little intrinsic value intended solely for presentation)
  • Prizes in contests open to the general public
  • Commercial discounts available to the general public or to all Government employees
  • Commercial loans, pensions, and similar benefits
  • Anything for which you pay fair market value
  • Anything that is paid for by the Government

Exceptions to the Gift Prohibition - 5 C.F.R. § 2635.204

There are some limited circumstances when you can accept gifts given because of your official position or from prohibited sources.  Of course, you may never solicit such a gift.  And, it is never inappropriate and frequently prudent to decline a gift even if an exception applies.

Gifts valued at $20 or less (retail market value), per occasion from a single source.   Gifts offered from a prohibited source or because of your official position may not exceed $20 per occasion or $50 from a single prohibited source in any given calendar year.  You may not accept cash or checks made out to you under any circumstance.  Gift cards valued at $20 or less for specific vendors/restaurants are permissible.  If the gift is valued over $20, you may not pay the difference in order to accept the gift; you must pay the full market value of the gift in order to accept it.

Widely Attended Gatherings.  Acceptance of free attendance at widely attended gatherings is permissible as long as certain prior approval requirements are met.  Employees must receive approval prior to the event using form DI-1958.  An event is widely attended if it is expected that a large number of persons will attend and that persons with a diversity of views or interests will be present.  For example, an event may be considered a widely attended gathering if it is open to members throughout the interested industry or profession or if those in attendance represent a range of persons interested in a given matter.

There is a limit of the cost of the event if someone other than the sponsor of the event invited you and is paying for your attendance (such as if a corporation or friends group invited you to sit at their table).  You may accept free attendance only if more than 100 persons are expected to attend, the gift of your attendance has a market value of $350 or less, and your attendance is approved as being in the interest of DOI.  The allowance may be changed periodically by the Office of Government Ethics.  Please verify the current allowance with your ethics counselor.

Free attendance may include waiver of all or part of a conference or other fee or the provision of food, refreshments, entertainment, instruction, and materials, furnished to all attendees as an integral part of the event.  It does not include travel expenses, lodging, entertaining collateral to the event, or meals taken other than in a group setting with all other attendees.  (Under certain circumstances, DOI or your bureau may be able to accept travel expenses from outside sources to these events as described below in the "Traveling on Official Business" section of this website.)

Speaking Engagements.  If you are assigned to participate as a speaker or panel participant or otherwise to present information on behalf of DOI at a conference or other event, you may accept free attendance at the event on the day of your presentation if it is provided by the sponsor of the event.  For speaking engagements, free attendance has the same meaning as for widely attended gatherings.  As with a widely attended gathering, you must receive approval prior to the event using the DI-1958 form.

If the event is longer than one day, and you are offered free attendance for any day(s) on which you are not assigned to present information on behalf of DOI or your bureau, waiver of the conference fee for those nonspeaking days may be acceptable under the widely attended gathering exception to the gift rules.

Discounts and similar benefits that are offered to the public, other groups that you belong to, or all Government employees.  This exception includes favorable rates offered to all Government employees even when you are off duty.  It also includes favorable rates and commercial discounts offered to members of a group or class in which membership is unrelated to Government employment.

Gifts based on outside business or employment relationships.  (E.g., because of your outside affiliations, outside work, or other relationships or those of your spouse, if they are not enhanced due to your official position.)

Awards and honorary degrees.  Employees may accept awards (but not cash or investments) with an aggregate value of $200 or less given as a bona fide award for meritorious public service by a person who does not have interests affected by the employee's performance or nonperformance of official duties. Please contact your ethics counsel.  For awards valued at more than $200 which require prior written approval from an ethics counselor in their office or bureau for honorary degrees, awards of cash of any amount, or travel expenses.

Gifts from a political organization.  (Given in connection with political activities permitted by the Hatch Act as amended, 5. U.S.C. §§ 7321 through 7326.)

Gifts based on a personal relationship.  You may accept a gift given under circumstances that make it clear that the gift is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than your position.  If the gift is given for business reasons or is paid for by the prohibited source, it is not covered under this exception.

If there is no exclusion or exception available for an employee to accept a gift, the Department or bureau may be able to accept the item as a gift to the agency using its statutory gift acceptance authority.  Employees should consult with the Office of the Solicitor and the Departmental Ethics Office or an ethics counselor from their bureau in such cases, particularly if refusal to accept the gift would cause offense or embarrassment.

GIFTS FROM FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS

In accordance with the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, you may not accept anything of value from a foreign government, unless specifically authorized by Congress.  This rule applies whether you are on  or off duty.  Any unit of a foreign government, whether it is national, state, local, or municipal level, is covered.  It also applies to gifts from international or multinational organizations comprised of government representatives.  It also may apply to gifts of honoraria, travel, or per diem from foreign universities, which are often considered as part of the foreign government.  Spouses and dependent children of Federal employees are also banned from accepting gifts from foreign governments.

The following gifts from foreign governments are authorized under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act (5 U.S.C. § 7342):

  • Gifts of minimal value ($350 or less, as of June, 2011, but this amount is revised periodically)
  • Travel expenses (including transportation, food, and lodging) for travel taking place entirely outside the U.S.
  • Educational scholarships
  • Medical treatment

In certain circumstances, particularly if refusal of a gift would cause embarrassment either to the United States or the foreign government offering the gift, the gift may be accepted on behalf of the Department.  Employees should consult with the Departmental Ethics Office or an ethics counselor from their office or bureau regarding such gifts.

Gifts between Employees - 5 C.F.R. § 2635 Subpart C

General Rules: You can't give a gift to a person above you in your supervisory chain.  You can't solicit donations to buy a gift for a superior.  You can't solicit donations to buy a gift for a superior.  You can't accept a gift from an employee who receives less pay than yourself.  However, there are some exceptions.  Gifts are permissible if:

  • There is a personal relationship between you and the other employee that would justify the gift and there is no subordinate-official superior relationship.
  • The gift is a personal hospitality gift provided at a residence, which is of a type and value you customarily provide to personal friends.
  • The gift (bottle of wine, bouquet of flowers, etc.) is given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality if of a type and value customarily given on such occasions.
  • The gift (other than cash) has an aggregate market value of $10 or less per occasion, and is given on an occasion when gifts are normally exchanged.
  • The gift is leave transferred under an approved agency leave sharing plan (but not to your immediate supervisor).
  • There is a special and infrequently occurring occasion of personal significance, such as marriage, illness, the birth or adoption of a child or an occasion that terminates a subordinate-official superior relationship, such as retirement, resignation, or transfer.  On such occasions, an employee may give a suitable and appropriate gift, and may request donations of nominal amounts within the office for contributions toward the gift.  Donations must be entirely voluntary.  Employees must be free to contribute a suggested amount, a lesser amount, or nothing at all.