Washington Management Group

Gifts and Federal Employees

Practical Advice on GSA Schedule Contracting
By: Carolyn Alston, General Counsel, Washington Management Group

December 2011

As the winter holiday seasons approach, many of us start to consider what gifts will be just right for family, friends and colleagues. Regardless of how good your working relationships are with your government counterparts, an exchange of gifts is most likely not appropriate.

Federal employees are subject to a myriad of restrictions regarding the acceptance of gifts from outside sources. A gift is any item or service that has monetary value. A gift can includes anything from meals to forbearance on a loan. Generally, a federal employee may not accept gifts that are given because of their official positions or that come from "prohibited sources". A “prohibited source” is a person (or an organization made up of such persons) that –

  • seeks official action by, is doing business or seeking to do business with, or is regulated by a federal employee's agency, or
  • has an interest that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of the federal employee's official duties.

There are some exceptions to the ban on gifts from outside sources. For example the following gifts are allowable:

  • a gift valued at $20 or less. However, be aware that the total value of gifts from a source cannot exceed $50 in a calendar year. In this case “source” would include an entire company.
  • a gift motivated solely by a family relationship or personal friendship
  • a gift based on an employee's or his spouse's outside business or employment relationships, including a gift customarily provided by a prospective employer as part of bona fide employment discussions
  • gifts of free attendance at certain widely attended gatherings, provided that the agency has determined that attendance is in the interest of the agency
  • modest refreshments (such as coffee and donuts), greeting cards, plaques and other items of little intrinsic value
  • discounts available to the public or to all Government employees, rewards and prizes connected to competitions open to the general public.

These exceptions are subject to some limitations on their use. For example, a federal employee can never solicit a gift. Additionally a federal employee cannot accept gifts on such a frequent basis that a reasonable person would believe that the employee was using public office for private gain.

Federal ethics rules are many, varied and not always intuitive. If you have any questions concerning their applicability to you, you should discuss the specifics with your corporate ethics officer or legal counsel.

WMG clients, If you wish to have a more detailed briefing for you or your contracting team regarding federal ethical requirements, please contact your WMG consultant.

Do you have a government contracting question? Please email it to me at CarolynsCorner@washmg.com.

About Carolyn:

Carolyn Alston is General Counsel of Washington Management Group. She provides legal counsel to WMG's federal acquisition consulting operation, focusing on Multiple Award Schedule contract award, compliance, and audit procedures.

Prior to joining WMG, Carolyn had a distinguished career with the U.S. General Services Administration. Her experience as a senior attorney in the GSA's Office of General Counsel led to her role as the lead in developing and writing GSA's Multiple Award Schedule policy. Her GSA career culminated in running the agency's successful GSA Schedule program as Assistant Commissioner for Acquisition at GSA.

Carolyn holds a BA from Cornell University and a JD from Georgetown Law Center. Carolyn is a member of the bar in Maryland and the District of Columbia.


WMG offers the information provided on this web site for informational purposes only.

WMG is a well recognized expert in GSA Schedule contracting, with more than 30 years of corporate experience. The information provided on this site is based on our substantial acquisition expertise, particularly with respect to commercial item contracting. Nothing on this site should be interpreted as legal advice.

As you recognize, most decisions regarding your GSA Schedule contract are highly dependent upon the facts of your particular circumstances. You should not rely on this site to make specific decisions about your contract. If you are considering taking specific actions on a matter affecting your GSA Schedule contract, we highly recommend that you contact WMG regarding a proposal for individual acquisition consulting services or that you seek advice from legal counsel with expertise in GSA Schedule contracting.


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