Frequently Asked Questions - Gift Exceptions from Outside Sources

Exceptions to the Gift Prohibition

a. $20/$50 Rule

Question: You deal officially with a contract whom you otherwise do not know. The contractor invites your supervisor and you to dinner at a hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, a block from the White House. The contractor does not invite anyone else. The cost of each meal is valued at $21. May the supervisor and you accept the offer?

Answer: No. The Standards prohibit an employee from accepting a gift that exceeds the $20 exception at Section 2635.204(a) if the gift is offered either: (a) from a prohibited source; or (b) because of the official position of the employee. Both reasons apply to you. (You may not offer to pay the addition $1. The $20 rule is NOT a "Federal $20 discount.")

Question: What if the dinner in the above question costs less than $20?

Answer: If the invitation was simply for dinner to discuss business, you may accept the invitation. That is the purpose of the $20 exception. However, since you, and your supervisor have been singled out by the contractor for the invitation, you may determine that it is prudent either to decline the invitation or to pay for your own meal. You should consider the sensitivity of the matter on which you are dealing with the contractor. See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202

Question: May I accept any gift as long as it is not worth more than $20?

Answer: Almost. The exception allows you to accept gifts of $20 or less on a single occasion, but remember, not more than $50 per year per source. (The source is the entire organization, so you may not accept gifts exceeding the $50 per year per source limit just because different employees in the same organization present them each time.) If several gifts are given to you at the same time from the same source, you may keep those items whose total value when added together does not exceed $20. You may never accept gifts of cash, and you may not pay only the difference for gifts exceeding the $20 limit. Finally, you may not accept gifts so frequently that you appear to be using your public office for personal gain.

Question: Is there a more generous exception for holiday celebrations?

Answer: No. The Standards of Conduct remain in effect for the holiday season. If the cost of attendance at an event exceeds $20, then you may not accept an invitation to attend using the $20 exception.

Question: I work in a Federal facility alongside employees of an Agency/contractor. I recently got married and the contractor employees want to contribute money to purchase a microwave oven for me as a wedding gift. May I accept that gift?

Answer: No. The $20 exception to the gift rule states that an employee may accept gifts from a prohibited source having an aggregate market value of $20 or less "per occasion". Accordingly, an employee may not use this exception to accept a gift worth more than $20 special infrequent occasion from a prohibit source regardless of how many people contributed toward it.

b. Gifts from Family and Friends

Question: My brother-in-law works for a firm that does business with DOI. May I accept a gift from him?

Answer: Sure, as long as the gift is clearly motivated by a personal relationship and your brother-in-law, and not his firm, pays for the gift.

Question: A longtime close friend performs contract work for DOI and is therefore a prohibited source. May I use the "family and friends" exception to accept gifts from her, or should I apply the $20/$50 limit?

Answer: Again, as long as the circumstances make it clear that the gift is motivated by a personal friendship rather than your position with the Government, you may accept any gift from your friend using the "family and friends" exception. Relevant factors to consider include the history of the relationship and whether the friend personally pays for the gift. If you have any reason to suspect either the motivation or the source of payment for the gift, you can always decline the gift, pay the market value for it, or abide by the $20/$50 limit.

c. Gifts of Free Attendance

Question: I sometimes receive invitations of free attendance for events hosted by DOI contractors. If my supervisor approves of me attending these events, is it okay for me to accept the offer of free attendance?

Answer: You may be able to accept the offer of free attendance if the event qualifies as a widely attended gathering. Your Ethics Advisor must make a determination that your attendance is in the Agency's interest because it will benefit Agency programs and operations.

d. Non-DOI Conferences and related Events - WAGS

Question: What, if any, restrictions do employees have in accepting invitations to non-DOI conferences and events related to such conferences?

Answer: Federal employees are prohibited from acting in a manner which appears to constitute an endorsement of a specific entity, product, or service. Federal employee acceptance of invitations to participate in non-DOI conferences and events can create the appearance of such an endorsement if the organizer promotes or conducts the conference in a manner that implies DOI endorsement or special access to DOI officials. Federal employees may not accept invitations to any VIP or Speaker events in which all participants of the conference are not invited. Federal employees also may not accept gifts of entertainment or sporting events (e.g., golf outings) associated with the conference, unless the employee pays full market value for the event and does not participate in the immediate company of DOI contractors (e.g., playing in a foursome including a DOI contractor). In addition, the employee must be in a leave status and personally pay for any additional travel or related expenses that result from the employee's decision to attend such a conference related event.

Question: How should a Federal employee decide to participate in a non-DOI conference?

Answer: An employee's supervisor must determine that participation in a non-federally funded conference is in the best interest of DOI considering the following factors: (1) relevance to DOI; (2) potential benefit to DOI; (3) potential for networking opportunities to share DOI information with the public and private sectors; (4) the number of DOI federal employees who are to either participate or attend; (5) total costs for DOI federal attendees and participants; (6) location of the event; (7) potential for any adverse perception resulting from DOI participation; and (8) whether the Department's interests would be better served by the Department's direct hosting of the conference.

e. Acceptance of Prizes

Question: A BLM employee, who does not make official decisions regarding BLM purchasing hi-tech items, attends a free hi-tech conference which is open to anyone including the general public. The BLM employee receives permission from her supervisor to attend. The employee participates in a drawing for a door prize which is open to everyone and cost nothing to participate. Lucky gal, she wins the door prize which is a lap top computer. Can the employee keep the computer?

Answer: She may accept and keep the lap top computer. If the Ethics Office determines that the computer was a prize and not a gift from the sponsor of the event. In addition, the sponsor of the event is not a prohibited source (e.g., a business client of the Department), and the Department did not pay any registration fee for the employee to attend the conference.

Question: The National Park Service (NPS) co-sponsors a conference with the Society of American Foresters (SAF). The conference is comprised solely of NPS and SAF personnel. Attendance fees for NPS attendees were paid for by NPS. At lunch on the first day of the conference, SAF raffles off a 60" plasma television valued at $1,200. All attendees were automatically entered into the drawing based solely on their paid attendance at the conference. Jim, an NPS attendee, wins the drawing. Can he keep the television?

Answer: No. SAF, as a partner with NPS and co-sponsor of the conference, is a prohibited source to NPS. The television is a gift with a value in excess of $20. For Jim to accept this gift, (1) his participation in the drawing can have no relationship to NPS having paid his attendance fees, and (2) the drawing must be open to the public. Neither condition has been met in this case.

f. Disposing of a Gift

Question: What do I do with a gift that I cannot accept?

Answer: You may pay the donor market value for the gift if you want to keep it. You may be able to accept on behalf of the agency but speak with your supervisor and your Ethics Advisor. If those two options are not available, you must return it. If the gift is perishable, such as food or flowers, it may be shared within your office, donated to charity or destroyed, as long as an ethics official or your supervisor grants approval.