As the nation looks forward to giving thanks with family and friends, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) will be proposing revisions to regulations that specify when employees of the federal executive branch must say, “No, thanks.” These changes are only proposals at this time and have not yet taken effect. Many of the changes are intended to make the rules more readable, but there are a number of important revisions, including:

  • Written authorization required for all widely attended gatherings (WAGs). The WAG rule allows for free attendance at certain events and is one of the most commonly used exceptions to the gift rules. OGE’s proposal would require written authorization for all WAGs, not just when the person extending the invitation has interests that could be substantially affected by the employee. The OGE believes “certain technologies . . . such as the Internet and mobile devices” make this change practicable, and the authorization would not need to be detailed.
  • A new provision discourages acceptance of permissible gifts. OGE added a new provision designed to encourage government employees to consider whether, even if a gift is permissible, acceptance of the gift could negatively “affect the perceived integrity of the employee or the credibility and legitimacy of the agency’s programs.” The new provision includes a number of factors to consider in making this judgment call, such as whether those with views different from the donor are also provided access to the government.
  • Alcohol is not a “modest item of food or refreshment.” A new example would clarify that the exclusion to the definition of “gift” for “modest items of food and refreshment” does not allow for the acceptance of alcoholic beverages.
  • Store gift cards of $20 or less are ok; prepaid cards are not. A rule that permits employees to accept gifts of $20 or less would be clarified to allow for gift cards to a particular store (the OGE example discusses a gift card “to a national coffee chain”). Cards without such restrictions, such as prepaid debit cards, are still prohibited as the functional equivalent of cash.
  • Receptions Hosted by Former Employer. The changes would allow a government employee to attend receptions hosted by a former employer, if the government employee is not given special treatment.
  • Unsolicited informational materials are ok; approval required if they exceed $100. Recognizing that some informational material, such as books, may be useful but expensive, the OGE would allow unsolicited informational material of up to $100 in value; if the value exceeds $100, approval would be required. Entertainment and art are not allowed.
  • “Free attendance” could include meals outside a group context. The OGE recognized that, when employees present at an event, a meal is often held just with the presenters. This revision would allow government employees to participate in those meals.

Comments on the proposed rule must be submitted within 60 days of the publication of the rule in the Federal Register—which is expected to occur on November 27.