Holiday party and gift guidance for federal personnel

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The holiday season is traditionally a time of parties, receptions and exchanging gifts. However, even in the holiday season, the standards of conduct apply. To ensure you don’t unwittingly violate the standards, a brief summary of the applicable rules is set out below.

General Rule: Federal personnel may not accept gifts offered because of their official positions or offered by a prohibited source. A prohibited source is anyone, including contractors, who:

-Seek official action by the employee’s agency
-Do business or seeks to do business with the employee’s agency
-Conduct activities regulated by the employee’s agency
-Has interests that may be substantially affected by the employee’s performance of duty
-Is an organization composed of members described above

Exception #1: Federal personnel may accept gifts, other than cash, not exceeding $20, as long as the total amount of gifts from that source does not exceed $50 for the year.

Exception #2: Federal personnel may accept gifts, even from a contractor employee if given because of a bona fide personal relationship. Such personal gifts are actually paid for by the contractor employee rather than the contractor.

Exception #3: Federal personnel may generally attend an open house, or reception, and accept any gift of refreshments if it is a widely-attended gathering, and the employee's supervisor determines that it is in the agency's interest that the employee attends.

Exception #4: Federal personnel may accept invitations, even from contractors, that are open to the public.

Exception #5: Federal personnel may accept invitations offered to a group, or class, that is not related to government employment. For example, if the building owner where your office is located throws a reception for all of the tenants of the building.

Exception #6: Refreshments consisting of soft drinks, coffee, pastries or similar refreshments not constituting a meal may be accepted since they are not considered to be a gift.

Exception #7: If an outside business or other relationship results in attendance at an event the federal employee may attend. For example, a federal employee’s spouse works at Contractor X, Inc. The federal employee may accompany the spouse to the Contractor X, Inc. employee’s holiday party since the invitation is to the spouse as a Contractor X, Inc. employee, and not to the federal employee because of his or her position.

Parties, open-houses and receptions hosted by non-prohibited sources: Federal personnel may attend social events sponsored by non-prohibited sources if no one is charged admission, most holiday receptions and open-houses.

Gifts and gift exchanges between federal personnel: Supervisors may not accept gifts from subordinates or federal personnel who receive less pay.

Exception #1: During holidays, which occur on an occasional basis, supervisors may accept gifts, other than cash, of $10 or less from a subordinate.

Exception #2: Supervisors may accept food and refreshments shared in the office and may share in the expenses of an office party.

Exception #3: If a subordinate is invited to a social event at the supervisor’s residence, the subordinate may give the supervisor a hospitality gift of the type and value customarily given on such an occasion.

Have a wonderful holiday season. Please remember that this guidance only highlights common questions, and does not cover every situation. If you are unsure, contact the ethics counselor at the legal office at 325-654-3203.