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Arnold AFB Legal office offers holiday gift guidance

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. -- It’s the season for giving and as the holidays approach, it is important to be mindful of the ethics rules as they apply to gift giving and gift acceptance.

The Arnold Air Force Base Legal Office aims to provide the necessary ethical guidelines so everyone can go forward and enjoy the holiday season.

Any time something with monetary value is offered to a government employee – including a meal, party invitation, or wrapped gift – federal ethics regulations apply. The three main areas of concern during the holiday season are 1) gifts between government employees; 2) gifts between subordinate and supervisor; and 3) gifts between government and contractor employees.

Gifts between Government Employees
As a general rule, peers and coworkers are free to exchange gifts. There are no legal restrictions on gifts given to peers or subordinates. However, common sense and good taste should apply.

Gifts between Subordinate and Supervisor
Generally speaking, supervisors may not accept gifts from subordinates or Federal personnel who receive less pay. Exceptions include any occasion on which gifts are traditionally given or exchanged. With the holidays being a traditional source of gift giving, Federal law allows subordinates to gift items valued at ten dollars or less to their superiors. Also, supervisors may accept food and refreshments shared in the office and may share in the expenses of an office party. Lastly, if a subordinate attends a social event at the supervisor’s residence, the subordinate may give the supervisor a hospitality gift of the type and value customarily given on such an occasion.

Gifts between Government and Contractor employees
Basic ethics rules state that government employees may not accept gifts from “prohibited sources,” defined as any person or non-federal entity currently doing business with or seeking to do business with the federal government. In addition, gifts from any source offered because of a government employee’s official position cannot be accepted. However, in limited circumstances, government employees may accept gifts from contractors and other outside sources. Gifts from prohibited sources must never exceed $20 per gift or $50 per year. This is often referred to as the “20/50 rule.” Under no circumstances is the giving of cash permissible, even via a gift card (however, a gift card from a specific vendor, such as Starbucks, is permissible as long as it is within the limitations of the 20/50 rule).

Other exceptions to the general gift giving guidelines exist. For example, gifts motivated by a genuine personal or family relationship are acceptable on a much broader basis. Also, certain items are not classified as gifts, such as greeting cards and modest items of food and refreshment like coffee and donuts. There are many other requirements and exceptions, and it’s always a good idea to consult with an ethics counselor before deviating from the general rules.

Whether you think the holiday season begins the day after Thanksgiving or the day Army & Air Force Exchange Service puts up its first Christmas tree, being mindful of the ethical guidelines ensures everyone in the AEDC family at Arnold is able to enjoy the holiday fun!

If you have any questions or concerns and would like to consult an ethics counselor, contact the Legal Office at (931) 454-7814.