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October 4, 2010

DEC/EC Meeting Notes -- Monday October 4, 2010
11:00 – 12:00 noon -- Bldg31, Room 6

1/26/12 NOTE: OGE revised entire OGE website. Links below are not updated. Search the new OGE website for new locations. http://oge.gov/

Items for Discussion/Presentations:

  1. Remarks by Dr. Tabak, NIH DEC
  2. Case Studies

Case Study #1: NIH Research Festival Lunch

The 2010 NIH Research Festival is October 5 to 8.  This is the showcase of the NIH Intramural Research Program.  The full schedule of events and a PDF of the festival program is available at http://researchfestival.nih.gov .   

A limited number of lunches will be available at the festival on Tuesday and Wednesday on the lawn next to Building 45.  Vendors will offer a "taste of Bethesda."  These lunches are not for sale but rather available on a first-come-first-served basis via an online request form, one set per person (with NIH ID).

The first step is to request a set of coupons at http://www.webdivatechnologies.com/researchfestival.   Next, you will receive a confirmation e-mail message, which you must print and bring to the food vendor area to exchange for five coupons, redeemable for three food samples, a drink and dessert. 

We encourage you to request a lunch quickly, because demand will exceed supply.  The Building 45 cafeteria will be open throughout the week if you need to purchase a lunch.  Please note that the sender of this message cannot make special accommodations to secure a set of meal coupons for you.

Applicable Regulation

§ 2635.202   General standards.
(a) General prohibitions. Except as provided in this subpart, an employee shall not, directly or indirectly, solicit or accept a gift:

(1) From a prohibited source; or
(2) Given because of the employee's official position.

§ 2635.204   Exceptions.

  • Gifts of $20 or less. An employee may accept unsolicited gifts having an aggregate market value of $20 or less per source per occasion, provided that the aggregate market value of individual gifts received from any one person under the authority of this paragraph shall not exceed $50 in a calendar year. This exception does not apply to gifts of cash or of investment interests such as stock, bonds, or certificates of deposit. Where the market value of a gift or the aggregate market value of gifts offered on any single occasion exceeds $20, the employee may not pay the excess value over $20 in order to accept that portion of the gift or those gifts worth $20. Where the aggregate value of tangible items offered on a single occasion exceeds $20, the employee may decline any distinct and separate item in order to accept those items aggregating $20 or less.

Facts:

  • In order to get a set of coupons, an employee must register using his/her NIH e-mail address and present his/her NIH badge.  Therefore, the gift is offered because of the employee’s official position.
  • The “Taste of Bethesda” was organized by the NIH R&W.  Arguably, the gift is being offered by the R&W.  If that is the case, then the gift is offered by a prohibited source because the R&W does business with the NIH.

Answer:
Because of either or both set of facts, an exception must apply in order for an employee to accept the gift of the lunch.  The gifts offered (three tastes, a drink and dessert) have an aggregate value of less than $20.  Regardless of whether the gifts were offered by the R&W or by individual vendors, the exception for gifts of $20 or less applies.

Case Study #2: Party Invitation

Felecia sent an e-mail on behalf of Holli inviting NEO staff and their guests to Holli’s house for a cocktail party.   The e-mail asked employees to RSVP to Felecia and added that there was no need to bring anything.  However, several employees brought gifts:

  • Levine brought a bag of Doritos (the extra large size bag);
  • LaKeshia brought a $15 box of chocolates, the same type and value that she typically brings when invited to a friend's house;
  • Carolyne brought a $65 bottle of wine, one suggested by the salesman at the wine store as "an exceptionally nice bottle."  She had never before bought such an expensive bottle of wine.
  • LaTonya and Linda together bought a fancy cheesecake which cost $18, a gift they had brought with them several times before.
  • Genia brought a $20 bouquet of flowers, her usually hostess gift.

Are there any issues with these gifts?  If yes, what?

Applicable Regulation:  Gifts Between Employees 5 CFR 2635 subpart C

General Rule:  2635.302: 
(a) Gifts to superiors. Except as provided in this subpart, an employee may not:

(1) Directly or indirectly, give a gift to or make a donation toward a gift for an official superior; or
(2) Solicit a contribution from another employee for a gift to either his own or the other employee's official superior.

(b) Gifts from employees receiving less pay. Except as provided in this subpart, an employee may not, directly or indirectly, accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay than himself unless:

(1) The two employees are not in a subordinate-official superior relationship; and
(2) There is a personal relationship between the two employees that would justify the gift.

  • Limitation on use of exceptions. Notwithstanding any exception provided in this subpart, an official superior shall not coerce the offering of a gift from a subordinate.

Exceptions:  2635.304:

a) General exceptions. On an occasional basis, including any occasion on which gifts are traditionally given or exchanged, the following may be given to an official superior or accepted from a subordinate or other employee receiving less pay:

(1) Items, other than cash, with an aggregate market value of $10 or less per occasion;
(2) Items such as food and refreshments to be shared in the office among several employees;
(3) Personal hospitality provided at a residence which is of a type and value customarily provided by the employee to personal friends;
(4) Items given in connection with the receipt of personal hospitality if of a type and value customarily given on such occasions; and
(5) Leave transferred under subpart I of part 630 of this title to an employee who is not an immediate supervisor, unless obtained in violation of §630.912 of this title.

Example 3:   The Secretary of Labor has invited the agency's General Counsel to a dinner party at his home. The General Counsel may bring a $15 bottle of wine to the dinner party and the Secretary may accept this customary hostess gift from his subordinate, even though its cost is in excess of $10.

Answer:

  • Levine's gift:  no issues; exception not needed
  • LaKeshia's gift:  ok; permissible because of the exception for personal hospitality
  • Carolyne's gift:  impermissible; not a gift of the type and value customarily provided by the employee to personal friends
  • LaTonya’s and Linda’s gift:  ok; permissible because of the exception for personal hospitality.  Note:  However, not ok if it was a birthday present from them to Holli.  Subordinates cannot pool their money ($10 limit) to give a gift to a supervisor on an occasion where gifts are typically given and no exception applies.
  • Genia's gift:  perhaps general rule does not apply.  While Genia does receive less pay than Holli, she is not a subordinate and is a personal friend.  However, since this is an NEO-only party, apply the general rule and personal hospitality exception would permit the gift. 

Announcements/Reminders:

  • October 1:  all OGE-450s should be certified. For those not certified please send a list of whose reports are not certified, including outstanding issues, to Genia Bohrer by Wednesday, October 6, 2010.
  • NEES will be unavailable on Monday and Tuesday, October 11 and 12, for deployment of the revised functions.  It is expected to be back on line at 9:00 am on Wednesday, October 13th.
  • Annual Ethics Training up:  let us know if you have questions.
  • Zi- Xiang Shen on rotation in OGC/Ethics Division; Mark Lucano and Levine Thomas are servicing Zi-Xiang’s ICs.

2010 Training Opportunities and Plans:

  • October 19, 2010 HHS DEC Workshop at Listner Auditorium  
  • November 15-18:  Basic Skills for Ethics Officials ("Ethics 101"). Sign up with Fran Plyler, or for more information contact Felecia Taylor in NEO.
  • OGC is no longer able to come to NIH for training; NIH will need to fill this gap.  As we work together to decide how our training program will evolve, as a reminder the Office of Government Ethics Training has online training modules that are very user friendly, helpful, and can be fun.  Visit their website at https://www.oge.gov/web/oge.nsf/Resources/Ethics+Training+Tools+and+Templates  I’ve listed several below.

Conflict of Interest Investigations WBT (2010)
In this course Inspector General (IG) investigators will be introduced to the two main ways in which OGE and the ethics community can support a criminal conflicts of interest investigation. First, the course discusses who OGE is and the role OGE can play in these investigations. Second, the course reviews a variety of ethics documents including; what documents exist, where they are kept, what information they contain, and how they can assist in supporting the conclusions of an investigation. After participating in this brief course, IG investigators will be able to more efficiently and thoroughly complete a criminal conflicts of interest investigation. (Begin Module)

How to File an SF 278 Report WBT (2010)
An interactive web-based training tutorial designed for executive branch employees who need to file a public financial disclosure report (Standard Form 278). Employees will learn the requirements of each section of the SF 278, see examples of common entries, and find useful techniques to help them accurately complete the report. However, this course may not be used to satisfy your annual ethics training requirement. (Begin Module)

How to File an OGE 450 Form WBT (2010)
An interactive web-based training tutorial designed for executive branch employees who need to file a confidential financial disclosure form (OGE Form 450). Whether the employees are new or experienced filers, they will learn why the OGE Form 450 is needed and how to fill it out completely. However, this course may not be used to satisfy your annual ethics training requirement. (Begin Module)

Working with Contractors: What You Need to Know WBT (2007)
An interactive web-based training module that is designed as an introduction to some of the most common ethics questions that Government employees might encounter when working with contractor employees. It particularly may be useful for Government employees who work closely with employees of Government contractors who are situated in a Government Facility. (Begin Module)

Interacting with Government Employees for Contractors WBT (2007)
An interactive web-based training module that is designed as an introduction to some of the most common ethics questions that contractors might encounter when they work with Government employees. It covers some of the ethics rules and principles that apply to Government employees, and might be especially appropriate for use by contractors who work in a Federal workplace, or who otherwise work closely with Government employees.(Begin Module)

Ethics Training for Special Government Employees WBT (2007)
An interactive web-based training module designed to be completed in about one hour and is intended for use by Special Government Employees (SGEs). The course contains a summary of ethics laws and rules that apply to SGEs and may be used as part of your initial or annual ethics training program. (Begin Module)

Misuse of Position WBT (2001)
An interactive web-based training module designed to be completed on this Web site. With the approval of your agency ethics official, you may use this module toward satisfying your annual ethics training requirement. Click on the "Begin Module" button to access and play this module. (Begin Module)

Gifts Between Employees Interactive WBT (2000)
An interactive WBT module designed to be completed on this Web site. This introductory module is based on subpart C of the Standards of Conduct. It focuses on the standards and exceptions related to gifts between employees. With the approval of your agency ethics official, you may use this module toward satisfying your annual ethics training requirement. Click on the "Begin Module" button to access and play this module. (Begin Module)

Please note: Due to the design of this module it is recommended that it be played on our Web site. However, in an effort to make the module available to those with limited Internet access, you can download a compressed version of the WBT Giftsbtw.exe to an individual hard drive, decompress and access for play. In order to successfully download this file please follow the instructions in Readme.txt file. Important: A Web browser (e.g., Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape) is required to view and use this training module.

Gifts From Outside Sources Interactive WBT (1999)
An interactive Web-based training (WBT) module designed to be played on this Web site. This introductory module focuses on the basic gift rule, gift exclusions and exceptions, and disposition of prohibited gifts. With the approval of your agency ethics official, you may use this module toward satisfying your annual ethics training requirement. Click on the "Begin Module" button to access and play this module. (Begin Module)

Please note: Due to the design of this module it is recommended that it be played on our Web site. However, in an effort to make the module available to those with limited Internet access, you can download a compressed version of the WBT Giftsfrm.exe to an individual hard drive, decompress and access for play. In order to successfully download this file please follow the instructions in Readme.txt file. Important: A Web browser (e.g., Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape) is required to view and use this training module.

Job Aids: 

Analyzing 18 U.S.C. § 207: A Worksheet (2009) (PDF) (color) - This job aid is designed to help ethics officials counsel employees on whether a proposed post-employment activity is prohibited. In addition to a general § 207 worksheet, there are also separate worksheets for analyzing the elements of the most common § 207 prohibition – §§ 207(a)(1), 207(a)(2), and 207(c).

Determining Which Positions Should File A Confidential Financial Disclosure Report: A Worksheet (2009) (PDF) (color) - This job aid is designed to assist ethics officials in determining whether a career employee should file a Confidential Financial Disclosure Report (OGE Form 450). Some Special Government Employees and Schedule C employees may also be required to file confidential financial disclosure reports.

Analyzing Seeking Employment Situations: A Worksheet (2009) (PDF) (color) - This job aid is designed to assist ethics officials in determining whether an employee has a job search conflict and what remedies might resolve the situation.
 ___________________________________________________
Next meeting:  November 1, 2010
 * You may attend the DEC/EC meeting via telecom if you are out of town or otherwise unable to attend in person.  Please note there are a limited number of lines available.  We encourage in person attendance to the extent possible.

Posted 10/21/10