When can I accept a gift?
Generally, anything that has monetary value is considered a gift. With some exceptions mentioned later, you may not accept a gift from anyone who is giving the gift to you because of your Government position. Ask yourself if the gift would have been offered if you were not working for the Government. If the answer is "no," then the gift is being offered because of your Government position and you may be prohibited from accepting it.
You may not accept a gift from people or organizations who are "prohibited sources" - those who do business with or seek to do business with, who seek some official action by, or who have activities regulated by the Department. Gifts from these people or groups are prohibited, whether or not you deal with them when doing your job. You must also turn down gifts from those who have interests that may be significantly affected by your official duties, as they are also considered "prohibited sources."
What about accepting a cup of coffee?
A cup of coffee is such a modest refreshment that it is not considered a gift. So you may accept it without worrying about who is giving it or why. Inexpensive food and refreshment items such as donuts or soda also may be accepted. Other items not considered gifts include greeting cards, bank loans at commercial rates, publicly available discounts, certain contest prizes, and things for which you pay fair value. But remember that the definition of a gift is very broad. If you have a question about a gift, ask your ethics official.
May I accept a lunch?
Meals are gifts. If the person who wants to pay for your lunch is a "prohibited source" or if the meal is offered because of your position, then the rule on not accepting gifts applies. You may be able to accept a lunch or other meal under the exception for gifts valued at $20 or less. But you may not go to lunch on a frequent basis as the guest of the same person because there is a $50-per-year limit on gifts from any one source. Again, if you have a question about a gift, ask your ethics official.
Can the $20 exception be used for any thing other than lunch?
Yes, but no cash!
The $20 exception may be used to accept any gift that is not worth more than $20. If you don't know the actual value of an item, you may make a reasonable estimate.
There are some other things you should keep in mind before you use the $20 exception. First, it allows you to accept, but not to ask for, something worth $20 or less. Second, the rule allows you to accept gifts worth $20 or less on a single occasion. That means if several gifts are given at the same time, their total value cannot exceed $20. And remember, there is a $50-per-year limit on gifts from the same source.
There are other exceptions that would allow you to accept (but not to ask for) gifts, that would otherwise be prohibited, such as the "friends and family" exception for gifts based on personal relationships. Other examples are special discounts (such as from the Department credit union), gifts that result from an outside job for you or your spouse when they are not given because of your Government position, achievement awards, and certain dinners or other events that the Department approves for you to attend. All of the exceptions are subject to certain limits and some have conditions that must be met. For example, you cannot accept a gift for an official act, because of criminal statute 18 USC 201. Ask your ethics official before using an exception. Your ethics official also can tell you how to properly dispose of a gift that you have received, but are not allowed to keep.
Some Things That May Be Accepted
- Alex may keep a pen worth $15 that is given to him by a person whose license application he has processed.
- Janine may accept a tennis racket from her brother on her birthday, even though he works for a company that does business with her agency, as long as he, not his company, paid for the gift.
- Louise may accept two $8 tickets to a craft show that are offered to her by a company that has applied to her agency for a grant.