Gifts: Ethical rules for DoD employees

By Capt. Joon HongFebruary 17, 2010

USAG RED CLOUD, Republic of Korea - At some point during a career, someone may have received an unsolicited gift from a person who was unrelated to them and who gave them the gift solely because of their status as a military or civilian employee of the U.S. Department of Defense.

It is possible the gift was given as a genuine expression of gratitude for service to the United States.

However, DoD employees are subject to the gift-giving and gift-receiving rules contained in the Joint Ethics Regulation, Code of Federal Regulations, and other applicable laws and regulations.

One should, therefore, be familiar with the basic ethical guidelines on the giving and receiving of gifts.

Under federal ethics regulations, a "gift" includes any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value.

It includes services as well as gifts of training, 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.

Under federal ethics regulations, certain items do not fall within the definition of a gift.

These include:

*Modest items of food and refreshments, such as soft drinks, coffee and donuts, offered other than as part of a meal;

*Greeting cards and items with little intrinsic value, such as plaques, certificates, and trophies, which are intended solely for presentation; loans from banks and other financial institutions on terms generally available to the public;

*Opportunities and benefits, including favorable rates and commercial discounts, available to the public or to a class consisting of all government employees or all uniformed military personnel, whether or not restricted on the basis of geographic considerations;

*Rewards and prizes given to competitors in contests or events, including random drawings, open to the public unless the employee's entry into the contest or event is required as part of his official duties;

*Pension and other benefits resulting from continued participation in an employee welfare and benefits plan maintained by a former employer;

*Anything, which is paid for by the U.S. government or secured by the U.S. government under a U.S. government contract.

Gifts can originate from an outside source (such as a nonfederal private individual, a commercial activity, or a foreign government) or from another federal employee.

Different rules apply depending on who is giving you the gift.

As a general rule, a DoD employee cannot accept an item from an outside source unless the item is excluded from the definition of a gift, or the items falls under a specific regulatory exception for gifts.

The following are some of the more commonly applicable regulatory exceptions:

Aca,!Ac The "20/50" Rule: a DoD employee can generally accept a gift (other than cash) with a monetary value that does not exceed $20 per occasion, per source, not to exceed $50 per source in a calendar year.

Aca,!Ac Personal relationship: a DoD employee can generally accept a gift when it is clear the gift was given based on an established personal relationship, rather than on the employee's position.

Aca,!Ac Awards under $200: a DoD employee can generally accept an award with a monetary value of under $200. If the award has a monetary value over $200, the award can be accepted only if an agency ethics official makes certain written determinations.

Aca,!Ac Gifts from a Foreign Government: a DoD employee can, under specific circumstances, accept a gift from a foreign government that does not have a monetary value over $335.

Gifts between DoD Employees: a DoD employee is prohibited from accepting a gift from another federal employee if that employee is superior to the donor, or receives more pay than the donor.

However, on an occasional basis, the following individual gifts to a supervisor are permitted:

Aca,!Ac Gifts (other than) cash that are valued at no more than $10;

Aca,!Ac Food and refreshments that are shared in the office; personal hospitality in the employee's home that is the same as that customarily provided to personal friends;

Aca,!Ac Gifts given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality that is customary to the occasion;

Aca,!Ac Transferred leave (in the case of DoD civilian employees), provided that it is not to an immediate superior; and

Aca,!Ac On certain special infrequent occasions a gift with a monetary value of $300 or less may be given that is appropriate to that occasion. These occasions include events of personal significance (such as marriage, illness or the birth or adoption of a child), or occasions that terminate the subordinate-official superior relationship (such as retirement, resignation or transfer).

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