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Eye Opener: Holiday gift giving at federal offices

By Ed O'Keefe



Eye Opener

Happy Friday! Most offices start winding down for the year on Friday ahead of the weekend's anticipated snowstorm and the Christmas and New Year's weeks. Amid all the parties, long lunches and other holiday cheer, some feds may wonder: When it comes to giving gifts at government offices, how much is too much?

"Twenty dollars or less," said Bill Bransford, a partner at federal employment firm Shaw, Bransford and Roth and co-host of Federal News Radio's "Fed Talk."

"No more than fifty dollars a year to the same person pretty much keeps you in safe territory, but of course there are exceptions and there are times when you are actually allowed to give more," Bransford said.

And because there are always (ALWAYS!) extra, tricky details with federal employment matters, Bransford provided a little more detail:

If you had that personal friendship before that boss became your boss and you had a history of maybe treating your boss to a round of golf or a lunch or going out to dinner or buying a round of drinks, keep in mind all of those are defined as gifts under the gift rules, then that can continue.
The clearest example is if somebody's a relative, a member of your family and they're also a federal employee and maybe even at the same agency you work at, you can certainly give that gift as a member of the family, but you'd better have a pretty good explanation for why this is different and not be making something up or creating a false situation. Remember there have been several people over the last few years who have received gifts who have gone to jail.

Bottom line: "The safest thing is to not give any presents," Bransford said.

Incidentally, if The Eye could accept gifts from sources and contacts (he absolutely cannot and will not), he'd tell people that his favorite color is blue, he's like shiny things and he's a size medium and his favorite gift as a child was...

Eh, just leave your holiday wishes in the comments section below.

Cabinet and Staff News: At climate talks, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says China must agree to more monitoring. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke clears his first Senate hurdle. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, other officials, mark H1N1 progress. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke makes a stimulus funding announcement on Friday in St. Louis.

More Obama Nominees Announced: On Thursday the president tapped Kevin Wolf to serve as assistant secretary of commerce for export administration; Timothy McGee to serve as assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction; Theodore W. Tozer to serve as president of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Government National Mortgage Association; and Sharon L. Browne, Charles Norman Wiltse Keckler and Victor B. Maddox to serve as members of the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation. Track all of Obama's nominees with The Post's Head Count and WhoRunsGov.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT:
Defense releases guidelines for NSPS transition: some employee groups are concerned that the Pentagon is wasting resources by continuing to place new hires into NSPS.

Air Force agrees to solar power project near base in Nevada: It has dropped its objections to a $750 million solar power project near Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada after a company agreed to move the project about a mile and a half from its proposed location.

McCaskill calls for increased oversight of contract work in Afghanistan: She wants stepped-up government oversight of contract work in Afghanistan, saying Pentagon auditors have already challenged nearly $1 billion in charges by military contractors.

ENERGY DEPARTMENT:
Energy Dept. reaches nuclear waste deal: The department strikes a deal with Utah to prohibit thousands of drums of low-level radioactive waste from South Carolina from being permanently buried in the state until stricter guidelines are put in place.

GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS/WORK/LIFE:
Senators introduce acquisition workforce bills: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) have introduced two bills that seek to improve the federal acquisition workforce.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT:
Muslims say FBI tactics sow anger and fear: Since the terror attacks of 2001, the agency and Muslim and Arab-American leaders have worked to build a relationship of trust. But those relations have reached a low point in recent months.

Justice Department defends ACORN funding ban: Government lawyers are seeking to reverse a judge's ruling that the law to defund the group is unconstitutional.

LABOR DEPARTMENT:
Injured abroad, neglected at home: Labor Dept. slow to help war zone contractors: The department has failed to pursue sanctions against corporations accused of ignoring federal requirements to purchase insurance for civilians working on overseas federal contracts.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | December 18, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Comments

For goodness sake, how do you write a piece about federal gift giving without including the most important advice of all? When in doubt, contact the agency ethics officer and get the gift cleared in advance! Let them play Scrooge if necessary, or give you the go-ahead so you can gift in confidence.

Posted by: SolontheGreat | December 18, 2009 7:31 AM | Report abuse

during my last several years of corporate life and now running a small consulting practice with subcontractors we "gifted" the local women's shelter and children's home.

Posted by: george32 | December 18, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

There are so many things wrong with the article, it should be pulled and corrected immediately. The limit on gifts to a supervisor is $10. The $20 limit ($50 in one year) applies to accepting gifts from an outside party that has business before your agency. There is no limit on gifts between "equals", i.e., where one employee does not make more than the other or where there is no subordinate/supervisor relationship. And there are no limits on gifts between employees from different federal agencies, so the idea that you can't accept a gift from a relative because they happen to work at a federal agency (or you might go to jail) is ridiculous. Seriously, there is practically nothing accurate in this article. All of these facts are easily verifiable in the government ethics regulations (5 CFR 2635.201 and .301 et seq.) or you could have just called the Office of Government Ethics, as opposed to an outside party that gives incorrect and/or misleading information.

Posted by: codydog | December 18, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Codydog's comment is exactly right - the gift giving portion of the article has so many errors that the writer should issue a correction. I cannot believe that a partner specializing in employment law would offer such a muddled statement, but I checked the link to the original article at Federal News Radio and it's just as bad. Go to the Office of Government Ethics for accurate information, but first retract this article.

Posted by: loved1 | December 18, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

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