The Office of Government Ethics has finalized rules it proposed last year updating policies regarding exceptions to the general ban against accepting gifts from outside sources. The rules, effective January 1, retain the general policy that employees may accept items or services worth $20 or less—but no more than $50 a year from any one source—as having minimal value. “Although $20 may not buy the sort of lunch that it bought in 1992 when the regulation was issued, no compelling argument has been made to support a conclusion that raising the cap,” OGE said in the November 18 Federal Register. Another exception allows of free attendance at certain widely attended gatherings. All authorizations to accept such free attendance will have to be in writing and before accepting, an employee must consider whether the government is also providing persons with views or interests that differ from those of the donor, under the new rules. Also, the rules spell out policies on free attendance for other agency officials accompanying the employee and for the employee’s spouse or other guest at events where the employee is speaking or presenting in an official capacity. The rules also address an exception allowing acceptance of gifts that otherwise would be barred, if given due to a personal relationship. They state that the exception would not apply, for example, to a gift given to a federal employee by a contractor employee if they know each other mainly only through social media and do not carry on extensive personal interactions, or meet socially outside of work. The rules further address how to determine whether items such as free food or refreshments would exceed the allowable amount, accepting honorary awards, informational materials, restrictions on soliciting gifts, disposing of prohibited gifts, and more.
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