Conferences, Gifts, Entertainment and Travel Reimbursement
BOR employees are subject to some specific laws and regulations regarding the acceptance of gifts, both from other employees and from outside sources. Certain types and values of gifts are permitted between BOR employees. In addition, some exceptions permit certain gifts from outside sources such as awards, free attendance, and honorary degrees. The following information provides the details on limitations and exceptions for gifts:
- Gifts Between Employees;
- Gifts from Outside Sources;
- Gifts from Foreign Entities;
- Exceptions to the Gift Prohibitions; and
- Gifts of Travel Reimbursement – includes information for accepting travel reimbursement from a non-Federal source and accepting frequent flyer miles obtained during official travel.
What is a Gift? (5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(b) and (c)
A gift is anything that has monetary value that you obtain for less than “market value.” The gift might be tangible or intangible. A gift may include, but is not limited to, a gratuity, favor, discount, cash, gift card, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. It also applies to services, training, transportation, travel, lodging.
See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(b).
“Market value” is the retail price that you, the recipient of the gift, would have to pay to purchase it. If you cannot readily determine the retail value of a gift, you may estimate its value by reference to the retail cost of items of similar quality. If a ticket entitles you to food, refreshments, entertainment, or any other benefit, the market value is the face value printed on the ticket.
Gifts Between Employees (5 C.F.R. § 2635 Subpart C)
General Rules: Generally, you cannot give a gift to a person above you in your supervisory chain. You cannot solicit donations to buy a gift for a supervisor. You cannot accept a gift from an employee that receives less pay than yourself. However, there are some exceptions. Gifts are permissible if:
- There is a personal relationship between you and the other employee that would justify the gift and there is no subordinate-official superior relationship.
- A personal hospitality gift provided at a residence which is of a type and value you customarily provide to personal friends.
- A gift given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality if of a type and value customarily given on such occasions (e.g., a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers).
- A gift (other than cash) that has an aggregate market value of $10 or less per occasion.
- A gift of leave transferred under an approved agency leave sharing plan (but not to your immediate supervisor).
- Items such as food and refreshments to be shared in the office among several employees.
- There is a special and infrequent occurring occasion of personal significance, such as marriage, illness, the birth or adoption of a child; or an occasion that terminates a subordinate-official superior relationship, such as retirement, resignation, or transfer. On such occasion, an employee may give an appropriate gift exceeding the $10 limit and may request donations of nominal amounts within the office for contributions toward an appropriate gift. Donations must be entirely voluntary. BOR employees must be free to contribute a suggested amount, a lesser amount, or nothing at all.
Gifts from Outside Sources (5 C.F.R. § 2635.202)
As a general rule you may not, directly or indirectly solicit or accept a gift: (1) from a prohibited source; or (2) given because of your official position. A prohibited source is any person, company, or organization that has business with BOR, is seeking to do business with BOR, conducts operations that are regulated by BOR, or has interests that might be affected by the performance or nonperformance of your official duties; or is an organization, a majority of whose members are described above.
Exclusions: Some Things Are Not Gifts (5 C.F.R. § 2635.203)
Some items are excluded from the definition of gift, and you may accept them pursuant to certain specific regulatory exclusions:
- Modest items of food and non-alcoholic refreshments such as soft drinks, coffee, and donuts, not offered as part of a meal.
- Greeting cards and items of little intrinsic value such as plaques, certificates, or trophies, which are intended primarily for presentation.
- Prizes in contests open to the general public.
- Commercial discounts available to the general public or to all Government employees.
- Commercial loans, pensions, and similar benefits on terms available to the general public.
- Anything for which you pay fair market value.
- Anything that is paid for by the Government.
- Free attendance provided by the sponsor of an event to which you have been assigned to present information on behalf of BOR.
- If you are assigned to participate as a speaker or panel participant or otherwise to present information on behalf of BOR at a conference or other event, you may accept free attendance at the event on the day of your presentation if it is provided by the sponsor of the event. This is not considered a gift to the employee or the agency. For speaking engagements, free attendance has the same meaning as for widely attended gatherings. As with a widely attended gather, you must receive approval prior to the event.
- If the event is longer than one day, and you are offered free attendance for any day(s) on which you are not assigned to present information on behalf of BOR, free attendance for those non-speaking days may be acceptable under the widely attended gathering exception to the gift rules. You still must seek approval from your AEC.
Considerations in Declining an Otherwise Permissible Gift
You should consider declining an otherwise permissible gift if you believe that a reasonable person would question your impartiality or integrity as a result of accepting the gift.
Factors to consider:
- Does the gift have a high market value?
- Does the timing of the gift create an appearance that the donor is attempting to influence an official action?
- Is the donor someone whose interests may be affected by the performance of your duties?
- Will acceptance of the gift provide the donor with disproportionate access to the employee or the agency?
Remember, it is never inappropriate, and frequently prudent, to decline a gift.
Gifts from Foreign Government
In accordance with the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, you may not accept anything of value from a foreign government, unless specifically authorized by Congress. This rule applies whether you are on or off duty. Any unit of a foreign government, whether it is national, state, local, or municipal level is covered. It also applies to gifts from international or multinational organizations composed of government representatives. It also may apply to gifts of honoraria, travel, salary, or per diem from foreign universities, which are often considered a part of the foreign government. Spouses and dependent children of BOR employees are also banned from accepting gifts from foreign governments.
The following gifts from foreign governments are authorized under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, 5 U.S.C. § 7342:
If the value of a gift exceeds minimal value and where refusal of a gift would cause embarrassment either to the United States or the foreign government offering the gift, the gift may be accepted on behalf of BOR. You should consult an AEC from BOR regarding such gifts. These statutory foreign gift restrictions also apply to the spouses and dependent children of BOR employees.
Exceptions to the Gift Prohibition (5 C.F.R. § 2635.204)
There are some limited circumstances when you can accept gifts given because of your official position or from prohibited sources. Even where a gift exception is applicable, you should always consider whether it is appropriate to decline the gift.
Gifts valued at $20 or less (retail market value) per occasion from a single source. You may accept unsolicited gifts that do not exceed $20 per occasion, up to $50 aggregated from a single source in any given calendar year. You may not accept cash or checks made out to you under any circumstance. Gift cards valued at $20 or less for specific vendors/restaurants are permissible. If the gift is valued over $20 you may not pay the difference in order to accept the gift. If the aggregate value of gifts from the same source on a given occasion exceeds $20, you may decline any distinct and separate item in order to accept those items aggregating $20 or less.
Widely Attended Gatherings (WAG). Acceptance of free attendance from the sponsor of a widely attended gathering is permissible as long as certain prior approval requirements are met. BOR employees must receive written approval prior to the event using Form DI-1958. An event is widely attended if it is expected that a large number of persons will attend and that persons with a diversity of views or interests will be present. For example, an event may be considered a widely attended gathering if it is open to members from throughout the interested industry or profession or if those in attendance represent a range of persons interested in a given matter. Attendance at such an event will be in the employee’s personal capacity (i.e., on the employee’s own time), or if authorized by the agency, on excused absence.
There is an additional restriction on accepting free attendance to a widely attended gathering if someone other than the sponsor of the event invited you and is paying for your attendance (such as if a corporation or friends group invited you to sit at their table). In that case, you may accept free attendance only if more than 100 persons are expected to attend, the gift of your attendance has a market value of $415 or less (as of January 2020, but this amount is revised every three years) and your attendance is approved as being in the interest of BOR. This dollar figure may change periodically. Please verify the current allowance with your AEC.
Free attendance may include waiver of all or part of a conference or other fee or the provision of food, refreshments, entertainment, instruction, and materials furnished to all attendees as an integral part of the event. It does not include travel expenses, lodging, entertainment collateral to the event, or meals taken other than in a group settling with all other attendees. (Under certain circumstances, BOR may be able to accept travel expenses from outside sources to attend these events as described below in the “Traveling on Official Business” section.Gifts based on outside business or employment relationships. This exception permits you to accept gifts that result from your outside affiliations, outside work, or other relationships and those of your spouse or customarily provided in connection with bona fide employment discussions, provided the gift is not offered or enhanced due to your official position. Lastly, you may accept gifts provided by a former employer to attend a reception or similar even when other former employees have been invited to attend, the invitation is based on the former employment relationship, and such benefits have not been offered or enhanced because of your official position.
Gifts based on a personal relationship. You may accept a gift given under circumstances that make it clear that the gift is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than your official position. If the gift is given for business reasons or is not personally paid for by the family member or friend, it is not covered under this exception.
Social Invitations. You may accept a gift of food, refreshments, and entertainment (not including travel or lodging) at a social event attended by several persons where no fee is charged to anyone in attendance and the invitation is not from a prohibited source. A written determination from your AEC is required if either the sponsor of the event or the person extending the invitation is not an individual.
Gifts of Travel Reimbrusement
Traveling on Official Business (41 C.F.R. Chapter 304)
Generally, your official travel must be paid for with appropriated funds. Under certain circumstances, however, BOR may accept in-kind travel benefits from a non-Federal source on your behalf. BOR may be reimbursed for your travel expenses by a non-Federal source.
Travel Expense Acceptance Pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 1353
This law allows Executive Branch agencies to accept reimbursement or in-kind donations from non-Federal sources for an employee’s transportation expenses (including food, lodging, incidental expenses, and registration costs) to certain functions related to the employee’s official duties.
Acceptance of travel expenses from non-Federal sources is only permitted when the employee’s travel is for attendance at a conference, meeting, seminar, training course, speaking engagement, or similar event that takes place away from the employee’s official duty station (the employee must be in a travel status). Travel under this authority may not be used for events required to carry out BOR’s statutory and regulatory functions such as investigations, inspections, audits, or site visits, or to attend vendor promotional training.
In addition to an approved travel authorization, the employee must also have an approved ethics Form DI-2000 in advance of travel.
Approval for accepting travel expenses is also subject to conflict of interest considerations. Acceptance of travel expenses from non-Federal sources will not be approved if it would cause a reasonable person with knowledge of all the relevant facts to question the integrity of the programs or operations of BOR.
It is not permissible for a BOR employee to personally accept reimbursement from an outside source. All checks must be made out to the Bureau of Reclamation. With prior approval, employees may accept “in kind” items such as airline tickets, meals, or hotel accommodations. In addition to accepting travel expenses for an employee, BOR may accept travel expenses for a spouse to accompany the employee to the same event where the spouse’s presence is determined to be in the interest of BOR.
Frequent Flyer Benefits (41 C.F.R. § 301-53)
BOR employees may retain for personal use promotional items, including frequent flyer miles, earned on official travel.
Airline Bumping Benefits
A BOR employee may voluntarily give up his or her seat on an oversold flight as long as it does not interfere with his or her official duties and there is no increase in costs to the Government. If this situation applies, the employee may keep any gift or compensation under the following conditions:
- The BOR employee may not claim additional travel expenses, including per diem, as a result of giving up his or her seat.
- The BOR employee must take annual leave if his or her travel is delayed during duty hours and pay any expenses accrued while on leave.
Any benefits resulting from an employee being involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight belong to the Government.