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"The servants of the nation are to render their services without any taking of presents." -- Plato

A true story: A recently appointed high level government official had a college roommate that he had kept in touch with over the years. The roommate was an employee at a company regulated by the official's agency. After assuming his job at the agency, the official began to receive invitations to go on trips and to sports events from his old roommate. The tickets and trips were paid for by the friend¹s company. Even though the government official was getting the gifts from a friend, the gifts appeared to have been given in large part because of his official position. The official resigned his government position.

When should I be concerned about accepting a gift?
There may be times when someone from outside the Government offers you a gift. Sometimes, this may not be a problem. However, there are restrictions on your accepting or soliciting gifts from certain people and organizations outside of the Government. These prohibited sources include anyone who is seeking official action from your agency, doing business with your agency, regulated by your agency, or anyone whose interests may be affected by your official duties. An organization whose members mainly fall into one of these categories is also a prohibited source.

You also are prohibited from soliciting or accepting a gift if it is given because of your official position.

Are all gifts prohibited?
No. There are a number of things that you may accept. You may, for example, enjoy coffee and donuts at a meeting and accept a plaque, even if they are given by a prohibited source. You also are allowed to accept free attendance at certain widely attended events, any gift (other than cash) that is worth $20 or less, or a gift paid for by a relative or friend.

Keep in mind that just because you would be permitted to accept a gift does not mean that you must accept it. You may always decline a gift and it may be prudent to do so, particularly if it is offered by someone whose interests could be affected by your official actions.

What if someone on my staff offers me a gift?
There are also some restrictions on the exchange of gifts between Government employees. Generally, you may not accept a gift from someone receiving less pay than you, unless the person is not your subordinate and you have a personal relationship. So, you may not accept an invitation from your executive assistant to an expensive dinner in honor of your birthday. But you may accept a similar invitation from your cousin who works for the Government, if she is not your subordinate.

Likewise, in most cases, you may not give a gift to, or solicit a gift for, your official superior.

There are several exceptions to this prohibition which permit gifts such as food and refreshments shared in the office or gifts for certain special occasions like marriage, illness, or retirement.

Guidance From The Office of Government Ethics:
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