The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has proposed revisions to federal ethics rules that prohibit Executive Branch employees from soliciting and accepting gifts from contractors. The proposed rule incorporates past interpretive guidance, includes updated citations, provides new examples, and clarifies the definition of "gift." For example, the rule expands the exception from the definition of gifts for items of low intrinsic value that are "solely" for presentation to items of low intrinsic value that are "primarily" for presentation. Previous exceptions to the gift rule are now listed as exclusions; for instance, a free offer to attend an event on the day the employee is speaking or presenting at the event is excluded from the definition of gift. An added example illustrates that the exclusion for "modest items of food and refreshment" does not include alcoholic beverages served at a Government contractor's holiday party.
The proposed rule amends the definition of "market value" to reflect OGE's longstanding interpretation that the "market value" of a gift is not the cost the donor paid for the gift, but the cost the employee would pay on the open market for the gift. Accordingly, "market value" is now defined as "the cost that a member of the general public would reasonably expect to incur to purchase the gift." Another change is the addition of the "nature of the relationship" as a factor to consider in determining whether a gift is based on a personal relationship. Finally, the proposed rule explains that in addition to following the formal rules, employees should consider whether accepting a gift would cause a "reasonable person" to question his or her integrity and, if so, whether employees should decline the gift.
Comments on the proposed rule are due by January 26, 2016. Once the rule is finalized, contractors and other entities dealing with Executive Branch officials and employees should revise their ethics policies to reflect the newly adopted standards.
The proposed rule and instructions for submitting comments are available here: https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-29208.
Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
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