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Legal Office provides ethics rules on gifts prior to PCS season

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. — Units may desire to give a gift to show appreciation for a departing teammate, but gift-giving may create a legal headache if the gift does not comply with applicable ethics regulations. 

Generally, Department of Defense employees may not give or solicit contributions for gifts to anyone superior in their official chain of command. They may also not accept gifts from personnel who receive less pay unless there is an independent personal basis justifying the gift.

However, an appropriate gift from an individual employee to a superior is permitted on special, infrequent occasions, including cases when official superior-employee relationships terminate, as is the case for retirements, resignations or a transfer.

Personnel should use best judgment in deciding whether an individual gift is appropriate for the occasion, considering the specific nature of the gift, such as a book, glassware or floral arrangement, and its monetary value.  

The value of group gifts to a member must not exceed $300, regardless of the number of individuals contributing. Employees are permitted to solicit contributions toward a group gift, but cannot ask for a contribution of more than $10 per person. An individual can, however, voluntarily contribute more than $10 if he or she so desires. 

The $300 limit on group gifts does not include the cost of food, refreshments and entertainment at an event such as a farewell party. For example, employees could gather donations for a $300 group gift, and also separately pool their money for $100 worth of refreshments. 

Individual contributions toward multiple group gifts should be avoided. If a subordinate contributes to more than one group gift to his superior, the value of the group gifts will be aggregated to the $300 limit.

For example, if an employee makes a contribution toward two different $200 group gifts, the gifts will be considered a single, and impermissible, $400 gift instead of two separate, permissible $200 gifts. 

Only federal employees can contribute to a PCS gift. Federal employees cannot accept gifts or contributions from contractors or off-base entities.

Failure to observe the ethical rules on giving and receiving gifts could lead to criminal, civil and administrative sanctions. For service members, this includes punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

The team of attorneys at the Hanscom Legal Office are available to answer questions regarding ethical gift giving, and can be reached at 781-225-1410.