Federal employees generally may participate in the upcoming Inaugural activities but they should be careful not to violate certain ethical restrictions, particularly those regarding the acceptance of gifts, according to new guidance.
“In connection with this occasion, a federal employee may receive offers of free attendance from various sources to attend Inauguration-related events, including the Inaugural Parade, Inaugural Balls, receptions, dinners, and fundraisers,” the Office of Government Ethics said.
An employee may attend any event or accept any other item that is available for free to the public or for which the employee pays market value, it said. “Therefore, an employee may enjoy access to entertainment and other gatherings made available to the general public in connection with the Inauguration,” it said.
Employees also may accept items from an entity of the government, such as tickets or other items offered by members of Congress to constituents, or by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
However, federal employees largely are barred from accepting gifts given because of their official position, it said. But certain exceptions might apply in conjunction with the Inaugural.
One exception is that employees may accept gifts worth less than $20 per occasion, although no more than $50 from the same source in a calendar year. “This exception could apply, for example, to gifts of food or drink at a reception or dinner or other event. Note, however, that any events for which there are tickets are to be valued according to the face value on the ticket,” OGE said.
Also allowable are gifts based on a personal relationship or that result from a spouse’s business or employment, such as tickets to a reception that the spouse’s employer provides for its personnel and their spouses.
Further, an employee may accept an offer of free attendance at a “widely attended gathering” if the employing agency determines that the employee’s attendance is in its best interest.
Employees meanwhile should be mindful of restrictions on partisan fundraising applying to them under the Hatch Act, the guidance said.