Ethics Counselor Toolbox.  The Toolbox is intended to provide additional resources for DoD Ethics Counselors. In it, you will find the relevant Deskbook chapter, training presentations, and other materials, such as white papers, templates, forms, and worksheets. Note: In using these tools for your own program, please ensure that you replace any references to SOCO with your ethics office contact information.


Note:  These Handouts provide general information. They are not a substitute for obtaining advice from ethics counsel on the application of the ethics laws and regulations to a specific set of facts and circumstances.


The following is a general summary of the gift laws and regulations. For details and information specific to your circumstances, contact your local ethics official.

What is a gift?

Generally, anything that has a monetary value is considered a gift.

Gift to DoD employee from outside source

With some exceptions, you may not accept a gift from:

1. Anyone who is giving the gift to you because of your Government position. Ask yourself if the gift would have been offered if you were not working for the Government. If the answer is no, then the gift is being offered because of your position; or.
2.  A  prohibited source.  A prohibited source is anyone doing business with or seeking official action from DoD. It also includes any organization, the majority of whose members are prohibited sources.  

There are many exceptions to the gift prohibition rule and exclusions to the definition of a gift that may permit acceptance of UNSOLICITED items, the most common of which are:

1. Modest items of food or non-alcoholic refreshment not served as part of a meal are not  "gifts."
2. Opportunities and benefits, including favorable rates and commercial discounts, available to the public or to a class consisting of all Government employees or all uniformed military personnel are not "gifts."
3. Gifts valued at $20 or less, provided that the aggregate value of all gifts from any one person or entity does not exceed $50 in a calendar year may be accepted.
4. Gifts based on a bona fide personal relationship, such as a family member or longtime personal friend, may be accepted.

Other exceptions or exclusions may apply - consult with your local ethics counsel.

Gifts between employees

With a few exceptions, the general rule is that you cannot give, make a donation to, or ask for contributions for, a gift to your official superior. An official superior includes your immediate boss and anyone above your boss in the chain of command. Also, an employee cannot accept a gift from another employee who earns less pay, unless the person giving the gift is not a subordinate and the gift is based on a strictly personal relationship.

There are some exceptions to this rule that may permit acceptance of UNSOLICITED items, the most common of which are:

  1. Individual gifts of $10 or less on appropriate "regular gift giving" occasions (e.g., birthdays, December holidays, etc.)
  2. Gifts of an appropriate value on special  infrequent occasions (e.g., weddings, baby showers, etc.)  Note - group gifts of up to $300 may only be given on special infrequent occasions and any solicitations for voluntary contributions are limited to $10.  

Gifts of Travel

As a general rule, Government employees may not accept gifts, including gifts of travel, if the gifts is from a prohibited source or given because of the employee's official position. There are, however, a number of exclusions and exceptions to the general prohibition that may permit acceptance of such a gift.  In some instances, the gift is not offered to the employee as a personal gift but instead to the Government to defray official travel costs, e.g., the sponsor of the event has offered to pay for some or all of the travel costs for an employee who will be giving an official speech at the event.  There is authority for the Government to accept such travel.  It must, however, be accepted by a designated gift acceptance authority and be approved in writing in advance of the travel.  See the 1353 Travel Employee Package in the Ethics Counselor Toolbox.

Gifts from a Foreign Government

Generally, Federal personnel are prohibited by the U.S. Constitution from accepting gifts offered by a foreign government entity or official unless permitted by statute.  The Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act permits Federal personnel to accept UNSOLICITED foreign gifts that meet certain statutory and regulatory criteria. If you receive or anticipate you might receive a gift from a foreign government entity or official, consult with your local ethics counsel.

Gifts to the Department of Defense

There are several authorities that may permit UNSOLICITED gifts to be accepted on behalf of the Department.  However, in each case, there are strict criteria that must be met, usually in advance of receiving the gift.  Examples include:

  1. Federal personnel may be permitted to accept gifts of travel, meals, lodging, and registration fees for official travel on behalf of the U.S. Government. 
  2. DoD has gift acceptance authority to accept personal and real property in certain circumstances. 
  3. DoD also has specific authority to permit military and civilian members to accept certain gifts if they were in a "combat zone."

Again, personnel should consult with local ethics counsel prior to accepting any gift on behalf of the Department.

Important - Political Appointees who have signed the President's Ethics Pledge may have additional restrictions.(See Other Ethics Topics under the Ethics Topics tab.)