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.

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 purusant to certain specific regulatory exemptions.

  • Modest items of food and non-alcoholic refreshments such as soft drinks, coffee, and donuts, not offered as part of a meal
  • Greeting cards and items of little intrinsic value such as plaques, certificates, or trophies, which are intended primarily 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 on terms available to the general public
  • Anything for which you pay fair market value
  • Anything that is paid for by the Government
  • Free attendance provided by the sponsor of an event to which you have been assigned to present information on behalf of the agency
    • If you are assigned to participate as a speaker or panel participant or otherwise to present information on behalf of DOI or your bureau 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.  This is not considered a gift to the employee or the agency.  Free attendance for a speaking engagement may include waiver of all or part of the fee for an event or the provision of food, refreshments, entertainment, instruction or materials furnished to all attendees as an integral part of the event.  It does not include travel expenses, lodgings, or entertainment collateral to the event.  It does not include meals taken other than in a group setting with all other attendees, unless the employee is a presenter at the event and is invited to a separate meal for participating presenters that is hosted by the sponsor of the event.  Where the offer of free attendance has been extended to an accompanying spouse or other guest, the market value of the gift of free attendance includes the market value of free attendance by both the employee and the spouse or other guest.  If you are a Political Appointee you must receive approval prior to the event using the DI-1958 form.
    • If this 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, free attendance for those nonspeaking days may be acceptable under the widely attended gathering exception to the gift rules, which requires using the DI-1958 form.

Example:  A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employee attends a free hi-tech conference hosted by a BLM contrator.  The conference 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 costs nothing to participate.  The BLM employee wins the door prize which is a lap top computer.  The employee may accept and keep the lap top computer.  Rewards and prizes given to competitors in contests or events, including random drawings, that are open to the public are not considered gifts provided the employee's entry into the contest is not required as part of his or her official duties.

Example:  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, SAP 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.  An NPS attendee wins the drawing.  The NPS employee may not keep the television.  SAF, as a partner with NPS and co-sponsor of the conference, is a prohibited source.  The television is a gift with a value in excess of $20.  For the NPS employee to accept the gift, the contest must be open to the public and the employee's entrance into the contest is not required as part of his official duties.  Neither condition has been met in this case.

Gifts from Outside Sources (that are not Foreign Governments) - 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.

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 section.

For the purposes of the gifts rules, the Department is broken down into the following components:

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
  • 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)
  • 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.

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, Office of Natural Resources Revenue, etc.), 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 and the Office of Inspector General, etc., too.

A gift is solicited or accepted because of "official position" if it would not have been solicited, offered, or given had the employee not held the status, authority, or duties associated with his or her Federal position.

Consideration in declining an Otherwise Permissible Gift

You should consider declining an otherwise permissible gift if you believe that a reasonable person would question your impartiality or integrity as a result of accepting the gift.

Factors to consider:

  • What is the value of the gift?
  • What is the timing of the gift?
  • What is the identity of the donor (prohibited source)?
  • Will acceptance of the gift provide the donor with disproportionate access to the employee or the agency?

It is never inappropriate, and frequently prudent, to decline a gift.

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.  Even where a gift exception is applicable, you should always first consider whether it is appropriate to decline the gift.  

Gifts valued at $20 or less (retail market value), per occasion from a single source. Gifts that do not exceed $20 per source per occasion or $50 from a single source in any given calendar year, that may be accepted. 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 (or the aggregate value of gifts from the same source on a given occasion exceeds $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.  If the gift is valued over $20 (or the aggregate value  of gifts from the same source on a given occasion exceeds $20), you may decline any distinct or separate item in order to accept those items aggregating $20 or less.

Example:  You deal officially with a contractor whom you otherwise do not know.  The contractor has filed a claim against the agency and you will be involved in helping prepare the agency's defense against the claim.  The contractor invites you to dinner at a restaurant, a block from the White House.  The contractor does not invite anyone else.  The cost of the meal is valued at $25.  You may not accept this gift.  The gift is from a prohibited source and is being offered because of your official position.  You may not offer to pay the additional $5 (the $20 rule is NOT a "Federal $20 discount.")

Example:  The cost of the dinner is the previous example costs less than $20.  While the $20 exception would apply, you should first consider whether it is appropriate to decline the gift.  The contractor may be substnatially affected by the performance of your duties.  While the gift has a relatively low value, the timing of the gift may create the appearance that the contractor is seeking to influence an official action.  Under these circumstances, you may want to consider declining the gift if you believe that acceptance would lead a reasonable person to question your integrity or impartiality.  See 5 C.F.R. §2635.204(a)

Example:  You work in a Federal facility alongside 15 employees of an Agency contractor.  You recently got married and the contractor employees want to contribute $10 each to purchase a $150 microwave oven for you as a wedding gift.  You may not accept this gift.  The contractor is a prohibited source and the value of the gift exceeds $20.  The source is the entire contractor organization.  You may not use this exception to accept a gift worth more than $20 from a prohibited source regardless of how many people contributed toward it.

Widely Attended Gatherings.  Acceptance of "free attendance" from the sponsor of a widely attended gathering is permissible as long as certain prior approval requirements are met. Employees must receive written 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.  Attendance at such an event will be in the employee's personal capacity, i.e., on the employee's own time, or if authorized by the agency, on excused absence (a/k/a administrative leave).

There is an additional restriction on accepting free attendance to a widely attended gather 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). In that case, you may accept free attendance only if more than 100 persons are expected to attend and the gift of your attendance has a market value of $390 or less.  This figure may be changed periodically by the Office of Government Ethics. Please verify the current allowance with your ethics counselor.

Sponsor vs. Non-sponsor of an Event.

The determination of who is a sponsor of an event is based on the totality of circumstances.  Facts that lead an ethics official to determine if an individual/entity is a sponsor are:

  • whether the person/entity reserved the space for the event;
  • determined the topcs to be covered, the intended audience, the agenda, the speakers, the date, or the location for the event; and
  • whether the person/entity's name is on the event, as more than just a financial sponsor (also called Corporate Sponsor) - such as "Presented by Energy Association and Conservation Organization."  

All of these factors are weighted to determine who is truly a sponsor of an event.

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 attend these events as described below in the "Traveling on Official Business" section of this website.)

Example:  You receive an invitation to attend an industry conference in Washington, DC from a DOI contractor.  The conference, which will focus on areas that relate to your duties and the DOI mission, will be attended by a large number of people.  You may accept this offer of free attendance provided your supervisor determines in writing that your attendance at this widely attended gathering is in the Agency's interest because it will further Agency programs and operations.

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.  This exception permits you to accept gifts that result from your outside affiliations, outside work, or other relationships; those of your spouse; or customarily provided in connection with bona fide employment discussions, provided the gift is not offered or enhanced due to your official position.

Awards and honorary degrees. Employees may accept awards 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.  Awards valued at more than $200, or that include cash or an investment interest of any amount, require prior written approval from an ethics counselor in their office or bureau.  Employees may accept honorary degrees upon written approval from their ethics counselor.  Please contact our ethics counselor.

Gifts from a political organization.  You may accept a gift 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 official position. If the gift is given for business reasons or is not personally paid for by the family member or friend, it is not covered under this exception.

Example:  Your brother, who works for a firm that does business with DOI, gives you a birthday gift valued at $50.  You may accept this gift provided the circumstances demonstrate that the gift is clearly motivated by this family relationship rather than your official position and your brother, and not his firm, 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 or pay the market value.

Social Invitations.  You may accept a gift of food, refreshments, and entertainment (not including travel or lodgings) at a social event attended by several persons where no fee is charged to anyone in attendance and the invitation is not from a prohibited source.  A written determination from the agency designee is required if either the sponsor of the event or the person extending the invitation is not an individual.

Gifts of informational materials.  You may accept unsolicited gifts of informational materials, provided that the aggregate market value of all information materials received from any person does not exceed $100 in a calendar year (if the value exceeds this amount, seek guidance from your ethics official).  Informational materials are writings, recordings, documents, records, or other items that are educational or instructive in nature; are not primarily created for entertainment, display, or decoration; and contain information that relates in whole or in part to the following categories:

  1. The employee's official duties or position, profession, or field of study;
  2. A general subject matter area, industry, or economic sector affected by or involved in the programs or operations of the agency; or
  3. Another topic of interest to the agency or its mission.

Disposition of a Prohibited Gift.  You must promptly return the gift or pay the donor for its market value.  If the gift is a tangible item valued at $100 or less, you may destroy the item.  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.

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 ($390 or less, this amount is revised periodically)
  • Travel expenses (including transportation, food, and lodging) for travel taking place entirely outside the U.S. that exceed minimal value
  • Educational scholarships
  • Medical treatment

If the value of a gift exceeds minimal value and where 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.

Even if a gift falls within an exception, you may not:

  1. accept a gift in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act (this would be an illegal bribe);
  2. use, or permit the use of your Government position or authority, to solicit or coerce the offering of a gift;
  3. accept gifts from the same or different sources so frequently that you appear to be using your public office for personal gain; and
  4. accept a gift in violation of any statute.

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GIFTS BETWEEN EMPLOYEES - 5 C.F.R. § 2635 Subpart C

General Rules: You cannot give a gift to a person above you in your supervisory chain. You cannot solicit donations to buy a gift for a superior. You cannot 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.
  • Given on an occasional basis, as follows:
    • A personal hospitality gift provided at a residence, which is of a type and value you customarily provide to personal friends.
    • A gift is given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality if of a type and value customarily given on such occasions (e.g., a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers).
    • A gift (other than cash) that has an aggregate market value of $10 or less per occasion,  (You cannot pool money to buy a gift over $10 for a superior unless it fits under the infrequent occasion or termination of superior-subordinate relationship exceptions). 
    • A gift of leave transferred under an approved agency leave sharing plan (but not to your immediate supervisor).
    • Items such as food and refreshments to be shared in the office among several employees
  • 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.

Example:  An employee travels at least once a month as part of her official duties and brings her supervisor an inexpensive souvenir (valued at $10 or less) from each of these trips. She may not give these gifts and her boss may not accept the gifts.  A gift valued at $10 or less is permitted on an occasional bases.  This is much too frequent to be considered occasional.

Example:  A supervisor's birthday is up coming.  Her employees want to solicit voluntary contributions to buy a cake and other light refreshments to share in the office at the birthday party and to purchase a gift.  Employees may bring - or collect voluntary contributions to buy - a cake and other refreshments to be shared in the office.  It is not permissible, however, for the staff to collect money and "chip-in" together to buy a birthday gift for the supervisor.  The supervisor's birthday is not a special infrequent event of personal significance that would permit voluntary contributions of donations toward a group gift for the supervisor.  Employees individually may give the supervisor a gift valued at $10 or less.  Similarly, because a group gift is impermissible for this type of recurring event, it is not proper for the group to take the supervisor to a restaurant for lunch.

Example:  A supervisor's spouse has been very ill and was recently hospitalized.  The staff takes up a collection to purchase him a bouquet of flowers that costs $75.  An employee may directly or indirectly give a gift to a supervisor on special, infrequent occasions of personal significance, such as a major illness, that exceeds the usual $10 limit.  For these types of events, a group of employees may also voluntarily "chip-in" norminal money contributions (e.g., less than $10) to purchase the flower arrangement.

Example:  You have worked with someone for many years and have become great friends.  In fact, you began your jobs on the same day.  She is in a higher grade but she is not your official superior. You would like to give her a gift valued at $50.  You and your friend are free to exchange gifts of any value at any time.  Employees generally may not accept gifts from other employees who receive less pay unless, as in this case, the two are not in a superior-subordinate relationship and a personal relationship justifies the gift.

Example:  You and your wife enjoy entertaining.  You invite your subordinates to your home for a holiday party and several of them bring gifts such as a box of candy, a planter, and a bottle of wine.  You may accept these hospitality gifts from subordinate employees and other employees receiving less pay than you as the gifts are of a type and value customarily given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality.  Similarly, you may accept personal hospitality at a residence of a subordinate employee or other employee receiving less pay than you that is of the type and value customarily provided by the employee to personal friends.