November 18, 2016
Today, OGE has published amended rules on gifts from outside sources. The rules are the culmination of collaboration with agency ethics officials and input from OGE’s many stakeholders over a period of years.
New language now admonishes employees to decline otherwise permissible gifts when accepting them would raise concerns about the appearance of impropriety. This new language represents a foray into values-based ethics that draws on the 14 General Principles of Ethical Conduct that lie at the heart of the executive branch ethics program. This blending of values-based and rule-based approaches delivers the best of two worlds. As always, employees must follow the rules prohibiting certain gifts, but we are now also asking employees to reach for the highest standard.
Other changes similarly strengthen the gift rules. For example, as a means of increasing transparency, all authorizations to accept gifts of free attendance at widely attended gatherings must now be in writing. OGE is also requiring for the first time that, before accepting a gift of free attendance at an event, an employee must consider whether the government is also providing persons with views or interests that differ from those of the donor with access to the government.
Also, after careful consideration, OGE rejected calls to increase the dollar threshold for the blanket de minimis exception that allows employees to accept gifts worth $20 or less. Although $20 may not buy the sort of lunch that it bought in 1992 when the gift rules were issued, no compelling argument has been made to support a conclusion that raising the cap would strengthen the integrity of the executive branch’s operations.
The amended regulation, which will strengthen the executive branch ethics program, becomes effective on January 1, 2017. For a more detailed discussion of the changes, read OGE’s notice of final rulemaking.