"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
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
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
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
Guidance From The Office of Government Ethics: