Many questions arise concerning the acceptance of gifts of travel (transportation, lodging, and meals), or travel expenses. As a first step, it is important to distinguish gifts of personal travel from gifts of official travel.
Note: Some travel is associated with services provided by an employee in connection with outside employment or an outside activity, so it is proper to consider the question in that context. See, for example, the definition of “compensation” in 5 C.F.R. § 2635.807 (concerning teaching, speaking, and writing).
Subpart B of 5 C.F.R. part 2635 governs gifts from outside sources. An executive branch employee is prohibited from accepting a gift from a “prohibited source” or given because of the employee’s official position, unless an exclusion or exception applies. 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.”
Note: If a gift of personal travel is from a foreign government or an international or multinational organization composed of foreign governments, an employee may accept the gift only in accordance with a statute. See especially 5 U.S.C. § 7342. If a foreign government provides the travel and it is associated with services provided by the employee, the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution may be relevant.
The several exclusions from the definition of “gift” are set out in 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(b). If something falls within an exclusion, it can be accepted because it is not considered to be a gift at all. Section 2635.204 sets out the exceptions, and section 2635.202 includes provisions that limit the use of exceptions. More specifically, notwithstanding an exception, an employee may not:
Only some of the exclusions or exceptions may extend to gifts of personal travel. For example, under an exclusion, an employee may accept favorable rates and commercial discounts available to the public or to all Government employees or all uniformed military personnel. Exceptions that may extend to the acceptance of personal travel include those that permit an employee to accept gifts:
Absent Congressional consent, an executive branch agency may expend for program purposes only the amount which has been appropriated. Congress has consented to the augmentation of appropriations by means of gift acceptance statutes. There are several statutes that can be used by an agency (or its employees) to accept gifts of official travel (or expenses) from non-Federal sources. These gifts must be accepted in accordance with the terms of the statute and any applicable implementing regulation.
In particular, 31 U.S.C. § 1353 is an executive branch-wide authority that permits an agency to accept a payment of “travel, subsistence, and related expenses” from a non-Federal source for an employee’s official, travel away from the employee’s official station, to attend a “meeting or similar function.” The implementing regulation is published by the General Services Administration at 41 C.F.R. chapter 304.
Note: Agencies are required to submit to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) semiannual reports of payments received from non-Federal sources under 31 U.S.C. §1353. Those travel reports are available on this website.
There are many subjects relating to travel that do not fall within OGE’s purview, including:
Learn more at www.gsa.gov.
The information on this page is not a substitute for individual advice. Agency ethics officials should be consulted about specific situations.