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OGE issues specific inauguration gift guidance

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Federal employees need to be careful when accepting gifts related to President Obama's second inauguration--and all the associated ceremonies, ball, parties and receptions--because many normal gift rules still apply, says the Office of Government Ethics.

In guidance released Dec. 20, the OGE says that upcoming second swearing in of Obama as president prompted it to remind agencies and employees of relevant ethical requirements, writes OGE General Counsel, Don Fox.

The memo notes general prohibitions for executive-branch employees, such as political appointees not accepting gifts from lobbying-related sources, but Fox says that some inauguration-related gifts may fall into exception categories.

Fox says some of the most pertinent prohibitions and exceptions for the inaugural season include:

  • Tickets for events are valued at the ticket's face value.
  • Gifts of any value can be accepted if they are solely based on the spouse's business or employment. The agency warns, however, that it must be "clear that the gift was not offered or enhanced because of the employee's official position."
  • Gifts given based on a spouse's employment or business can be accepted even if the source would normally be prohibited for the employee.
  • Employees who participate in campaigns and related activities can accept some gifts from political organizations, such as free tickets to events.

The standard rule of only accepting unsolicited gifts valued at $20 or less, and not exceeding $50 from any one source during a calendar year still applies, says Fox. Employees must also make sure that their attendance at widely attended gatherings is in the agency's interest, but the OGE guidance does not specify whether inauguration-related events are considered WAGs.

Fox suggests that federal workers consult with ethics officials over any questionable plans since other legislation, such as the Hatch Act, will also govern their activities at events like fundraisers held in connection with the inauguration.

For more:
- read the OGE guidance

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