The Office of Government Ethics (OGE), has expanded the ability of federal employee to accept gifts. Federal employees can now accept free attendance at “widely attended gatherings” with a value of up to $375.
In a revision that became effective on May 19, 2014, OGE has raised from $350 to $375 the widely attended gathering gift exception ceiling for non-sponsor gifts of free attendance.
There are exceptions to the gift prohibitions in the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. One of these exceptions is known as the widely attended gathering (WAG) exception. A “Widely Attended Gathering,” according to OGE, is one it describes in this way: “We believe that there are certain instances where an agency may have a legitimate interest in permitting attendance at certain group events where food is served so that employees may be able to meet on a less formal basis and have an interchange of ideas with a variety of individuals, including members of nongovernmental groups, legislators and other Government agency personnel, who are interested in but may have divergent positions on the same issues.”
Also, there is now a new “aggregation threshold” for the reporting of gifts and reimbursements received from any one source on financial disclosure reports. Under the new requirement, the aggregation threshhold is “more than $375”. Items worth “$150 or less” do not need to be counted in that overall threshold.
The 2013 Public and Confidential Financial Disclosure Reports (OGE Form 278s and OGE Form 450s) that are being filed this year are not affected by this change. The reason is because the new gifts and reimbursements thresholds became applicable as of the beginning of 2014.