Gifts from Outside Sources
An employee may not solicit or accept a gift given because of his official position or from a prohibited source to include anyone who:
- Has or seeks official action or business with the Department;*
- Is regulated by the Department;
- Has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance of an employee's official duties; or
- Is an organization composed mainly of persons described above.
A “gift” does not include items such as:
- Discounts and prizes available to the public, or opportunities and benefits to a class consisting of all Government employees or all uniformed military personnel;
- Commercial loans on terms generally available to the public;
- Modest items of food and non-alcoholic refreshments, such as soft drinks, coffee and donuts, offered other than as part of a meal;
- Items of little intrinsic value and intended primarily for presentation, such as plaques, certificates, trophies and greeting cards;
- Government pension, contracts, or other secured allocations;
- Items associated with official duty presentations on speaking days;
- Anything accepted by the Government on statutory authority; or
- Anything for which market value is paid by the employee.
Although the following are “gifts,” they may be accepted as exceptions to the gift rule:
- Gifts based on a personal relationship when it is clear that the motivation is not the employee’s official position and gift is paid for personally by the family member or friend;
- Gifts of $20 or less per occasion, not to exceed $50 in a year from one source;
- Opportunities and benefits that are offered to members of a group unrelated to government employment;
- Awards and honorary degrees (but these require prior approval of the component head).
- Gifts based on an outside business relationship, such as travel expenses related to a job interview.
The above exceptions cannot be used in the following circumstances, however:
- Gifts are being given in exchange for being influenced in the performance of an official act;
- The employee’s official position is being used to solicit or coerce the offering of a gift;
- Acceptance of gifts from the same source on a basis is so frequent that a reasonable person would be led to believe the employee is using their public office for private gain;
- Acceptance of the gift would violate a statute, including 18 U.S.C. 208 and 209, Executive Order, or supplemental agency regulation.
An employee should consider declining otherwise permissible gifts where a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question the employee’s integrity or impartiality as a result of accepting the gift, considering relevant factors such as:
- The gift has a high market value.
- The timing of the gift creates the appearance that the donor is seeking to influence an official action.
- The gift was provided by a person who has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s official job duties.
- Acceptance of the gift would provide the donor with significantly disproportionate access.
An employee should return gifts not meeting the prudential considerations or the exceptions, or contact his Deputy DAEO on how to dispose of them. Perishable items may be given to charity or shared by the office, with approval.
5 C.F.R. § 2635.201 - 205 (see Subpart B - Gifts from Outside Sources)
* Certain Department of Justice components are designated as separate agencies for purposes of the gift regulation.
Gifts of Entertainment
Tickets to Events
Before accepting any gift, an executive branch employee should consider whether acceptance of the gift would lead a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts to question his or her integrity or impartiality, and should consider declining such a gift, even if it is otherwise permissible. 5 C.F.R. § 2635.201(b).
According to the Office of Government Ethics gift rules, the market value of a ticket entitling a ticket holder to food, refreshments, entertainment, or other benefit is deemed to be the face value of the ticket. 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(c). This is true even when the street value of the ticket, that is, the price a member of the public would have to pay to obtain the ticket, is higher than the face value printed on the ticket. As a result, when determining if the gift of a ticket to an event is acceptable under the gift rules, an employee should use the face value of the ticket, not the street value, to determine its market value.
Ethics issues may also arise when an employee is given the opportunity to purchase a ticket at face value and the street value of the ticket exceeds its face value, if: (1) the general public does not have a similar opportunity; and (2) the opportunity is provided by a prohibited source or because of the employee’s official position. In this circumstance, the gift is not only the ticket itself, but may also be the opportunity to buy the ticket at all and at face value. Employees should consider declining such an opportunity if, among other things, the employee is working on a specific party matter involving the person or entity making the ticket available or if the opportunity to purchase the ticket appears to be given in order to provide special access to, or curry favor with, the employee. See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.201(b)(2).
Employees should consult their ethics officials in order to determine how to proceed when offered the opportunity to purchase tickets at face value if the street value exceeds the face value, and if such an opportunity is not also available to the general public.
Under any circumstance, when the opportunity to purchase (or accept) a ticket would cause a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts to question an employee's impartiality, the employee either should recuse from the matter or decline the opportunity to purchase (or accept) the ticket. See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502(a)(2).
Conferences and Other Events
When an employee is participating in his official capacity as a speaker or panel member at a conference or other event, he may accept an offer of free attendance, including a meal or refreshments, on the day of his presentation. The employee's participation in the event on that day is viewed as a customary and necessary part of his duties and is not considered a gift to him or the Department.
5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(b)(8)
Widely Attended Gatherings
When it is determined that an employee's attendance at all or an appropriate part of an event is in the interest of the Department because it will further agency programs and operations, an employee may accept an unsolicited gift of free attendance from the sponsor of the event if the event is found to be a widely attended gathering. A gathering is widely attended if a large number of people with mutual interests are expected to attend and the event is open to members from throughout a given industry or profession. An event should also present an opportunity to exchange ideas and views among invited persons.
A determination that an employee’s attendance at a widely attended gathering is in the interest of the Department shall be made in writing.
In weighing whether an agency’s interest in an employee’s attendance at a WAG is greater than the concern that the employee may be or appear to be improperly influenced in his or her decision-making, the agency designee may consider relevant factors including: (i) the importance of the event to the agency; (ii) the nature and sensitivity of any pending matter affecting the interests of the person who extended the invitation and the significance of the employee’s role in any such matter; (iii) the purpose of the event; (iv) the identity of other expected participants; (v) whether acceptance would reasonably create the appearance that the donor is receiving preferential treatment; (vi) whether the government is also providing persons with views or interests that differ from those of the donor with access to the government; and (vii) the market value of the gift of free attendance. Here is a sample widely attended gathering determination .
If anyone other than the sponsor of the event offers to pay for an employee's attendance at a widely attended gathering, at least 100 persons must be expected to attend and the cost cannot exceed $390 for the employee and guest.
5 C.F.R. § 2635.204(g) (see Subpart B - Gifts from Outside Sources, Exceptions)
Social Invitations from Persons Other than Prohibited Sources
An employee may accept unsolicited food, refreshments and entertainment, not including travel and lodging, for the employee and other guest, such as spouse, at a social event attended by several people where the invitation is from someone who is not a prohibited source, no fee is charged to anyone in attendance, and, if the sponsor of the event or person offering the invitation is not a person, the employee receives a written determination from the agency designee that his or her attendance will not cause a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts to question the employee’s integrity or impartiality.
5 C.F.R. § 2635.204(h) (see Subpart B - Gifts from Outside Sources, Exceptions)
Gifts Between Employees
An employee may not give, or solicit a contribution for, a gift to an official superior, and a superior may not accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay than him or her if the employee is a subordinate.
On annual occasions where gifts are traditionally given, such as birthdays and holidays, an employee may give the following to an official superior:
- Items, other than cash, valued at $10 or less;
- Items such as food and refreshments to be shared in the office; and
- Personal hospitality provided at the employee’s residence which is of the type and value customarily provided by the employee to personal friends.
On special, infrequent occasions, such as marriage, illness, a new child, or an occasion that terminates the superior/subordinate relationship, an employee may give an official superior a gift that is appropriate to the occasion. In addition, an employee may solicit voluntary contributions of nominal amounts from fellow employees, but not from subordinates or contractors, to contribute to the gift.
5 C.F.R. § 2635.301-304 (see Subpart C - Gifts Between Employees)
Gifts to the Department
The Department of Justice may accept gifts and bequests in certain circumstances. The Assistant Attorney General for Administration has the authority on behalf of the Department to accept gifts and the authority may be delegated to Component Heads. The policies and procedures are set forth in DOJ Order 2400.2 .
In order to obtain approval to accept a gift to the Department, a request should be submitted to the Justice Gift Fund Committee. Questions concerning this procedure may be directed to Property Management Services at (202) 307-2761. The request should include a Gift Donation Form completed by the donor. Certain types of gifts, not to exceed $150 in value, may be accepted by Component Heads under a delegation of acceptance authority . Acceptance of these gifts should be documented using a Gift Acceptance Form and do not need to be approved by the Gift Fund Committee.
Gifts from Department employees will generally not be accepted. Only the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General may solicit a gift for the Department. Nominating a Department program for an award is not considered soliciting a gift.
Gifts from Foreign Governments
There is a general ban on acceptance of gifts from foreign governments by officers and employees of the United States. However, 5 U.S.C. § 7342 provides for the acceptance of certain gifts from foreign governments if they do not exceed a minimal value. Contact your ethics official to determine if a foreign gift is below this threshold. All government agencies are required to submit an annual report to the Secretary of State concerning gifts, including certain travel received from foreign governments. Each year, the Justice Management Division distributes a memorandum asking employees to report such gifts.