Gifts from Outside Sources

Executive branch employees are subject to restrictions on the gifts that they may accept from sources outside the Government. Unless an exception applies, executive branch employees may not accept gifts that are given because of their official positions or that come from certain interested sources ("prohibited sources").

Definition of “Gift”

A “gift” is defined to mean anything of monetary value, and specifically includes “transportation, local travel, lodgings and meals, whether provided in-kind, by purchase of a ticket, payment in advance, or reimbursement after the expense has been incurred.

Definition of “Prohibited Source”

A prohibited source is a person (or an organization made up of such persons) who:

  • is seeking official action by, is doing business or seeking to do business with, or is regulated by the employee's agency, or
  • has interests that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.

Exceptions to Gift Rule

There are a few exceptions to the prohibition on gifts from outside sources. These exceptions allow an employee to accept:

  • a gift valued at $20 or less, provided that the total value of gifts from the same person is not more than $50 in a calendar year
  • a gift motivated solely by a family relationship or personal friendship
  • a gift based on an employee's or his spouse's outside business or employment relationships, including a gift customarily provided by a prospective employer as part of bona fide employment discussions
  • a gift provided in connection with certain political activities
  • gifts of free attendance at certain widely attended gatherings, provided that the agency has determined that attendance is in the interest of the agency

Exclusions from the Gift Rule

The following items are examples of items that are not considered gifts and that may be accepted by an employee:

  • modest refreshments (such as coffee and donuts), greeting cards, plaques and other items of little intrinsic value
  • discounts available to the public or to all Government employees and rewards or prizes connected to competitions open to the general public

There are other exceptions, including exceptions for awards and honorary degrees; certain discounts and other benefits; attendance at certain social events; and meals, refreshments, and entertainment in foreign countries.

Prohibition on Soliciting Gifts

These exceptions are subject to the following limitations on their use:

  • an employee can never solicit or coerce the offering of a gift, or accept a gift in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act
  • an employee may not accept gifts so frequently that a reasonable person might think that the employee was using public office for private gain

Disposition of Prohibited Gifts

If an employee has received a gift that cannot be accepted, the employee may:

  • the employee may return the gift
  • the employee may pay its market value
  • if the gift is perishable (e.g. a fruit basket or flowers) and it is not practical to return it, the gift may, with approval, be given to charity, shared with the office, or destroyed

Note: The information on this page is not a substitute for individual advice. Agency ethics officials should be consulted about specific situations.