The Office of Government Ethics has sent a reminder on policies regarding acceptance by federal employees of gifts toward their legal expenses, telling agency ethics counselors to help employees ensure that it is done within the boundaries of gift rules.
“An employee may accept contributions to pay for his or her legal expenses if the contributions are made consistent with the ethics rules, including the rules regarding the acceptance of gifts from outside sources,” it says. However, “given the heightened appearance concerns unique to an employee’s acceptance of this type of gift, agency ethics officials should take special care when counseling employees on whether the gift is from a prohibited source.”
A “prohibited source” under those rules is a person or an organization seeking official action by, doing business with or seeking to do business with, or regulated by the employee’s agency; or has interests that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of the employee’s duties.
The notice says that employees should seek ethics advice for before accepting any gift toward legal expenses, and ethics officials must review any gifts reported on financial disclosure reports to determine if any of the gifts appear to be from prohibited sources.
“If the ethics official has any concerns, the official should consult with the employee, the legal defense fund trustee or manager, or OGE. Exercising this due diligence will help ensure that employees who accept gifts to pay for legal expenses do so consistent with the gift rules and do not inadvertently accept a prohibited gift,” it says.