’Tis the season to brush up on ethics regulations

December 17, 2013

This holiday poem doesn’t have lines that soar like “To the top of the porch/To the top of the wall/Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

It lacks the whimsical cadence of “Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit/He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it!”


But the authors were working under a challenge not faced by Clement Clarke Moore or Dr. Seuss: The subject matter is the Code of Federal Regulations.

The Office of Government Ethics has posted a notice on its Web site calling attention to its guidance in poetic form on giving and accepting gifts, policies that apply to federal employees year-round but that draw added interest during the holiday season.

The poem covers considerations for exchanging gifts in the workplace — “I can give to my boss to a limit of ten/A baseball, a cap, or a blue ballpoint pen” — and accepting them from outside, allowable for anything worth up to $20 because “surely the public/Is certain to see/I could never be bought for a sandwich and tea.”

First published in 1994, the poem has been revised over the years and draws attention to other issues such as restrictions on soliciting donations in the workplace for charities and even for office parties.

Sometimes ethical lines are difficult to draw, it adds, for example regarding acceptance of gifts given to a spouse or attendance at parties sponsored by entities affected by the employee’s agency; in those cases, employees are urged to seek guidance from ethics officials.

Those who believe that federal ethics policy is too serious a subject for a light-hearted poem might prefer the kind of government verbiage in the cover memo. It states that “an employee who wishes to engage in fundraising in a personal capacity in the Federal workplace must comply with Subparts G and H of the Standards of Ethical Conduct . . . an employee may not use Government resources such as e-mail and photocopier equipment, or Government time, in support of a private fundraising effort. 5 CFR 2635.704 and 2635.705.”

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Josh Hicks · December 16, 2013