A Quick Reminder on Accepting Gifts Based on Personal Relationships and Spousal Employment or Business Relationships

Last edited 07/27/2023
Two hands exchanging a gift

Did you know that the ethics rules on gifts from outside sources have exceptions for gifts offered to you based on a personal relationship or as a result of the business or employment relationships of your spouse?

Generally, as a Federal employee, you are prohibited from soliciting or accepting gifts from prohibited sources or gifts given because of your official position.  A “gift” is any item of monetary value and includes any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, as well as training, transportation, lodging, and meals.

A “prohibited source” includes any person or entity who: (a) is seeking official action by your agency; (b) does business or seeks to do business with your agency; (c) conducts activities regulated by your agency; (d) has interests that may be affected by the performance of your official duties; or (e) is an organization a majority of whose members are prohibited sources.  Depending on which Department of the Interior (DOI) bureau or office where you work, the “agency” may be limited to your particular bureau or office.  For certain employees, the “agency” may consist of the entire DOI. 

What if you are offered a gift from a spouse, friend, or family member who works for a prohibited source?  In many cases, the gift rules will allow you to accept the gift.  Federal employees are permitted to accept a gift under circumstances which make it clear that the gift is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than the position of the employee.  Ethics officials will consider the history and nature of the relationship and whether your spouse, friend, or family member personally paid for the gift.  For example, if your spouse, friend, or family member works for a prohibited source, you may generally accept a birthday or holiday gift from that person under this gift exception, so long as they use their personal funds to pay for the gift, and not funds provided by the prohibited source.

You may also be offered a gift as a result of your spouse’s business or employment relationship with a prohibited source.  Let’s say, for example, that your spouse’s employer invited you and your spouse to a weekend retreat.  Would you be permitted to accept the invitation?  In many cases, the gift rules would allow you to accept the offer to attend the weekend retreat. Federal employees are permitted to accept meals, lodging, transportation, and other benefits resulting from the business or employment activities of the employee’s spouse when it is clear that such benefits have not been offered or enhanced because of the employee’s official government position. Under this exception, even if your spouse’s employer is a prohibited source, you could accept meals, lodging, transportation, or other benefits offered at the retreat provided that the employer extended the same invitation to all of its employees and their spouses or families.

Your ability to accept a gift offered to you by a prohibited source under the gift rules is highly fact-sensitive, so please contact an ethics official prior to accepting any gift.  Contact information for the DOI’s Departmental Ethics Office and bureau and office ethics officials is available at https://www.doi.gov/ethics/bureau-office-contacts.

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