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How to Navigate the Holiday Season and Continue to Uphold the Public’s Trust

December 7, 2022

From: Emory Rounds, Director

As the holiday season arrives, OGE recognizes that gifts are an important part of many cultures and traditions. So, why then do the executive branch ethics rules prohibit accepting some gifts? The ethics rules reflect the notion that under some circumstances gifts have the potential to improperly influence federal employees as they carry out their duties serving the public. Gifts can help to create and reinforce relationships, and while generally this is a good thing, gifts also can pose problems for ethics in government.

What does that mean in practice? It means, if you are an executive branch employee, you should consult your agency’s ethics officials before accepting any gift that is (1) offered by a subordinate or any federal employee who earns less than you do; (2) offered because of your federal position; or (3) offered by a prohibited source. They will help you decide if the gift would pose a problem under the ethics rules.

What should you do if you are offered an impermissible gift? You should decline it or promptly return it to the giver. It might sound like an awkward thing to do, but you can explain that to protect the public trust strict ethics rules limit what federal employees can accept.

Taking the steps above will help ensure that you successfully navigate the holiday season while still upholding the guiding principle that government employees should not accept gifts that hurt the government’s reputation or its integrity.

All of us at OGE wish you a safe and happy holiday season . . . free of prohibited gifts, full of ethics advice, and packed with service to the American people.