United States Office of Government Ethics, Preventing Conflicts of Interest in the Executive Branch

Gifts from Outside Sources
April 11, 2017

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

Even if an employee may accept a gift, employees should consider declining gifts when they believe that their integrity or impartiality would be questioned if they were to accept the gift. In making this judgment, employees may consider, for example, the value of the gift, the timing of the gift, whether the employee's actions could affect the donor, and whether accepting the gift would provide the donor with significantly disproportionate access.
 

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.


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."
 

Exclusions from the Gift Rule

The following 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.


Exceptions to Gift Rule

There are a few exceptions to the prohibition on gifts from outside sources. Some of the more common 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 or her spouse's outside business or employment relationships, including a gift customarily provided by a prospective employer as part of bona fide employment discussions;
  • gifts of free attendance at certain widely attended gatherings, provided that the agency has determined that attendance is in the interest of the agency; and
  • certain unsolicited gifts of informational materials.

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


Additional Prohibitions

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

  • Full-time political appointees are further limited with respect to gifts from outside sources. Because these appointees sign the Ethics Pledge pursuant to Executive Order 13770, they are prohibited from accepting gifts or gratuties from registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations (subject to certain exceptions).
  • An employee can never use his or her position or any authority associated with public office to solicit or coerce the offering of a gift, or accept a gift in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act; and
  • 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 return the gift;
  • the employee may pay its market value;
  • the employee may destroy a gift that is a tangible item with a market value of $100 or less; or
  • if the gift is perishable (e.g. a fruit basket or flowers) and it is not practical to return it, the employee may, with approval, give the gift to charity, share it with the office, or destroy it.

 

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