Gifts

1. Gifts from non-Federal SourcesAs a general rule, you may not, directly or indirectly, solicit or accept a gift from a "prohibited source"; or if it is given to you because of your official position.

  • A "prohibited source" includes any person, company, or organization that does business with the Service, is seeking to do business with the Service, conducts operations that are regulated by the Service, or has any interests that might be affected by the performance or non-performance of your official duties, or is an organization a majority of whose members are described above
  • A "gift" is anything that has monetary value which you obtain for less than "market value." The gift might be tangible or intangible. A gift may include, but is not limited to, a gratuity, favor, discount, cash, gift certificate, giftcard, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. It also applies to services, training, transportation, travel, lodging, and meals.  Certain items are excluded from the definition of gift and you may accept them: 
    • Snacks (coffee, donuts, other modest food items not offered as part of a meal).
    • Greeting cards, plaques, certificates, or trophies (items of little intrinsic value intended solely for presentation).
    • Prizes in contests open to the general public.
    • Commercial discounts available to the general public or to all Government employees.
    • Commercial loans, pensions, and similar benefits.
    • Anything for which you pay fair market value.
    • Anything that is paid for by the Government.
  • "Market value" is the retail price that you, the recipient of the gift, would have to pay to purchase it. If you cannot readily determine the retail value of a gift, you may estimate its value by reference to the retail cost of items of similar quality. If a ticket entitles you to food, refreshments, entertainment, or any other benefit, the market value is the face value printed on the ticket.

Exceptions:  There are some limited circumstances that allow you to accept gifts given because of your official position or by prohibited sources. Of course, you may never solicit such a gift. And, it is never inappropriate, and frequently prudent, to decline a gift even if an exception applies.

  • Gifts valued at $20 or less (retail market value), per occasion from a single source. Gifts offered from a prohibited source or because of your official position may not exceed $20 per occasion or $50 from a single prohibited source in any given calendar year.
    • You may not accept cash or checks made out to you under any circumstance.
    • Gift cards valued at $20 or less for specific vendors/restaurants are permissible.
    • If the gift is valued over $20, you may not pay the difference in order to accept the gift; you must pay the full market value of the gift in order to accept it.
  • Widely Attended Gatherings. Acceptance of free attendance at widely attended gatherings is allowed if certain prior approval requirements are met. Employees must receive approval prior to the event using a Departmental form DI-1958.
    • An event is  "widely attended gathering" if it is expected that a large number of persons will attend and that persons with a diversity of views or interests will be present. For example, an event may be considered a widely attended gathering if it is open to members throughout the interested industry or profession or if those in attendance represent a range of persons interested in a given matter. 
    • There is a cost limit for an event if someone other than the sponsor of the event invites you and is paying for your attendance (such as if a corporation or friends group invites you to sit at their table). You may accept free attendance only if more than 100 persons are expected to attend, the gift of your attendance has a market value of $375 or less, and your attendance is approved as being in the interest of the Service. 
    • Free attendance may include a waiver of all or part of a conference or other fee or the provision of food, refreshments, entertainment, instruction, and materials, furnished to all attendees as an integral part of the event. It does not include travel expenses, lodging, entertaining collateral to the event, or meals taken other than in a group setting with all other attendees. (Under certain circumstances, the Service may be able to accept travel expenses from outside sources to these events.)
  • Speaking Engagements. If you are assigned to participate as a speaker or panel participant or otherwise to present information on behalf of the Service at a conference or other event, you may accept free attendance at the event on the day of your presentation if it is provided by the sponsor of the event. As with a widely attended gathering, you must receive approval prior to the event using the Departmental DI-1958 form.  If the event is longer than one day, and you are offered free attendance for any day(s) on which you are not assigned to present information on behalf of the Service, a waiver of the conference fee for those nonspeaking days may be accepted using the DI-1958 form.   
  • Discounts and similar benefits that are offered to the public, other groups that you belong to, or all Government employees. You may accept favorable rates offered to all Government employees even when you are off duty. It also includes favorable rates and commercial discounts offered to members of a group or class in which membership is unrelated to Government employment.
  • Gifts based on outside business or employment relationships. You may accept gifts givenbecause of your outside affiliations, outside work, or other relationships or those of your spouse, if they are not enhanced due to your official position.
  • Awards and honorary degrees. You may accept awards (but not cash or investments) with an aggregate value of $200 or less given as a bona fide award for meritorious public service by a person who does not have interests affected by your performance or nonperformance of official duties. Awards valued at more than $200, honorary degrees, awards of cash of any amount and travel expenses require prior written approval from your supervisor and an ethics counselor.
  • Gifts from a political organization. You may accept a gift given in connection with political activities as permitted by the Hatch Act.
  • Gifts based upon a personal relationship. You may accept a gift given under circumstances that make it clear that the gift is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than your position. If the gift is given for business reasons or is paid for by the prohibited source, it is not covered under this exception.

In certain circumstances, particularly if refusal of a gift would cause offense or embarrassment, you may accept a gift on behalf of the Service.  However, you should consult with your ethics counselor immediately after the event to identify the appropriate disposition of the gift.

2.  Gifts between EmployeesThe general rule is that you can't give a gift, or solicit donations to buy a gift for a person above you in your supervisory chain. Also, you can't accept a gift from an employee who receives less pay than yourself.

Exceptions:  Gifts to a person above you in your supervisory chain are permissible if:

  • There is a personal relationship between you and the other employee that would justify the gift and there is no subordinate-official superior relationship.
  • The gift (bottle of wine, bouquet of flowers, etc.) is given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality and is the type of gift and value customarily given on such occasions.
  • The gift (other than cash) has an aggregate market value of $10 or less per occasion, and is given on an occasion when gifts are normally exchanged (e.g. holiday gift exchange.)
  • The gift is leave transferred under an approved Service leave sharing plan (but is not given to your immediate supervisor).
  • The gift is given for a special and infrequently occurring occasion of personal significance, such as marriage, illness, the birth or adoption of a child or an occasion that terminates a subordinate-official superior relationship, such as retirement, resignation, or transfer. On such occasions, an employee may give a suitable and appropriate gift, and may request donations of nominal amounts within the office for contributions toward the gift. Donations must be entirely voluntary. Employees must be free to contribute a suggested amount, a lesser amount, or nothing at all.

3.  Gifts from Foreign Governments: The general rule is that you, your spouse and dependent children may not accept any personal gifts of value from a foreign government. This rule applies whether you are on or off duty. Any unit of a foreign government, whether it is national, state, local, or municipal level, is covered by this prohibition.  The ban also applies to gifts from international or multinational organizations comprised of foreign government representatives, and to gifts (such as honoraria) from foreign government universities.

Exceptions:  You are allowed to accept the following gifts from foreign governments under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act (5 U.S.C. § 7342):

  • Gifts of minimal value ($390 or less, this amount is revised periodically).  However, you cannot accept cash.
  • Travel expenses (including transportation, food, and lodging) for travel taking place entirely outside the U.S.
  • Educational scholarships
  • Medical treatment

In certain circumstances, particularly if refusal of a gift would cause embarrassment either to the United States or the foreign government offering the gift, you may accept a gift on behalf of the Service.  However, you should consult with your ethics counselor as soon as you return from your trip regarding the appropriate disposition of the gift. 

Additional information about the gift rules may be found at: