The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The official government poem for holiday gift and party rules

That’s probably why the U.S. Office of Government Ethics created a poem in 1994 to help federal workers — even  contractors — understand the guidelines.

The agency sends the poem to government ethics officials every year, updating when necessary to reflect changes.  In 2009, the ethics office added stanzas about gifts from foreign governments and the lobbyist-gift ban. This year, it made more edits to explain the current foreign-gift limit.

We’ve posted the poem below for those who didn’t get the memo for 2012.

The ethics office also sends out a yearly reminder about fundraising, but that information is not included in the holiday poem. In a nutshell (a chestnut shell, of course): “An employee may not solicit funds or other support from a subordinate for a favorite charity … employees may not use their title, position, or other authority associated with their public office to further any fundraising effort … an employee may not use Government resources such as e-mail and photocopier equipment, or Government time, in support of a private fundraising effort.”

And now for the poem:


The holiday season – a time for good cheer! 
For egg nog, for parties, for friends to be near. 
But I must be careful 
Lest I accept free 
A gift not permitted, no matter how wee. 

Part two six three five of the 5 CFR 
Explains in detail the relevant bar. 
It defines the term gift 
To mean all things worth money. 
That’s NBA tickets or jars full of honey. 

Some gifts may be taken but some are verboten. 
The source is the key – it’s the rule that I’m quotin’. 
When from me or others 
The source seeks some act, 
I must find an exception or I could be sacked 

Even others who give can cause problems for me. 
If my job prompts the giving – my position, you see. 
But lucky for me, 
Some exceptions exist. 
They’re in subpart B and should not be missed. 

I can pay market value if the gift I do like, 
Or I can at my option say “go take a hike.” 
I can always say no,
But I need not decline. 
If worth twenty or less then the gift can be mine. 

This exception has prompted some very loud hollers. 
It says gifts are okay if worth twenty dollars. 
But surely the public 
Is certain to see, 
I could never be bought for a sandwich and tea. 

Restrictions apply so it does not suffice 
To pay twenty bucks for a gift twice the price. 
And in any one year 
I can’t use it, of course, 
To go over the limit – fifty dollars per source. 

For gifts that a friend or my sister might send, 
The rules recognize I don’t want to offend. 
Regardless of value, 
It only must be 
That their motive to give wasn’t business, but me. 

The rule’s much the same in the case of my spouse 
Who happens to work as she can’t stand our house. 
Although her employer 
Is one of those sources, 
I can go to their fete and avoid more divorces. 

In the case of most parties, the rule’s not so clear 
As the agency must have an interest, I fear. 
If worth more than twenty 
And it’s no friend true, 
Then I’d better seek guidance or I could be blue. 

When foreign officials are giving the gift, 
The rules are less strict so I don’t cause a rift. 
I can take it if 
Fair market value U.S. 
Is three hundred fifty dollars or less. 

I can give to my boss to a limit of ten – 
A baseball, a cap, or a blue ballpoint pen. 
If not to my boss 
Or my chain of command, 
To a friend I can give more without being canned. 

I always look forward to my office party. 
We’re all in good moods and the food is so hearty. 
If no arm is twisted, 
Collecting is okay 
To make sure that everyone has a good day. 

But finally, how would these rules affect me 
If I served the President as “appointee”? 
I know that appointees 
Must sign when they’re hired 
A short ethics pledge (or they risk being fired.) 

The same rules apply to a person who signed 
Except there’s an extra gift rule that’s enshrined: 
No gifts from a source 
Listed as “lobbyist” – 
Though no friend or kin is required to be dissed. 

So go forth with good cheer and know there’s no reason 
To think that the gifts rules will ruin your season