The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) adopted new gift rules for all government employees, which went into effect on January 1, 2017. Government employees are generally prohibited from accepting gifts from “prohibited sources” (e.g., persons regulated by or that have business before an agency), or gifts given because of the employee’s official position, unless allowed by a specific gift exception. The amended rules leave some old rules in place, tighten some rules, and open up a few new opportunities for engagement with government officials. As in the past, a gift is defined broadly to include a meal or anything of value.
OGE declined to increase the “de minimis” gift exception threshold (now 25 years old) to account for inflation. As a result, a prohibited source can generally continue to offer government employees a gift valued at $20 per occasion, with a $50 annual aggregate limit. On the other hand, government employees now have to obtain written agency approval before accepting an invitation to a widely attended gathering, such as an industry conference, from a prohibited source. Event sponsors should anticipate government invitees asking for more information about widely attended gatherings in order to satisfy questions from their agency ethics officials.
Event sponsors will be happy to learn that OGE now permits a government employee who speaks at an event to also attend a separate “speakers’ dinner” in conjunction with the event. OGE is also permitting executive branch employees, like their Congressional colleagues, to accept informational materials related to their duties from outside sources. Written agency approval will be required for informational materials valued at over $100 per year.