NIH employees make outstanding contributions to the biomedical sciences that are recognized by outside organizations in the form of awards. Employees may accept gifts associated with such awards and honors subject to the following guidelines and limitations. Where an employee can only be approved to accept gifts associated with an honor or recognition under the awards exception to the gift rule, advance approval is required via the Award form (see Note 1). No outside activity request is needed.
Note 1: Where ALL gifts associated with an award or honor can be accepted under other exclusions from or exceptions to the gift rule, employees must obtain prior approval as required for the application of those other exclusions (e.g., worthless plaque) and exceptions (e.g., Widely Attended Gathering (WAG), sponsored travel, etc.). The award form will not be used.
General Acceptance of Gifts Associated With Awards - 5 CFR 2635.204(d)
With prior approval, an employee (other than an employee with responsibility for matters affecting the award donor, see below) may accept gifts, other than cash or an investment interest, with an aggregate market value of $200 or less if such gifts are a bona fide award or incident to a bona fide award that is given for meritorious public service or achievement by a person who does not have interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties, or by an association or other organization, the majority of whose members do not have such interests. Gifts with an aggregate market value in excess of $200, and awards of cash or investment interests, offered by such persons as awards or incident to awards that are given for these purposes may be accepted upon a written determination by an agency ethics official that the award is made as part of an established program of recognition:
- Under which awards have been made on a regular basis or which is funded, wholly or in part, to ensure its continuation on a regular basis; and
- Under which selection of award recipients is made based on written standards.
Limits Applicable to Employees with Official Responsibility for Matters Affecting the Award Donor -- 5 CFR 5501.111
An employee may not accept gift(s) with an aggregate market value of more than $200, or that is cash or an investment interest, which are an award or incident to an award from a person, organization, or other donor that:
- Is seeking official action from the employee, any subordinate of the employee, or any agency component or subcomponent under the employee's official responsibility;
- Does business or seeks to do business with any agency component or subcomponent under the employee's official responsibility;
- Conducts activities substantially affected by the programs, policies, or operations of any agency component or subcomponent under the employee's official responsibility; or
- Is an organization, a majority of whose members are described in i, ii, and iii above.
Exceptions may be requested as outlined in the HHS Supplemental Standards of Ethical Conduct (5 CFR 5501.111)(, 18 pages) to permit the acceptance of gifts associated with an award having an aggregate market value of more than $200, or that is cash or an investment interest, when those gifts are associated with the most prestigious awards that confer an exceptionally high honor in the fields of medicine or scientific research, e.g., Nobel Prize or Lasker Award.
Pre-Screening and Approval of Awards
Employees must obtain approval from their Deputy Ethics Counselor (DEC) before accepting gifts that are an award or associated with an award or recognition. Awards which confer a cash prize, directly to the recipient or to any other entity as a result of the employee's selection, must be pre-screened before any employee can be approved to accept the gift(s). This process is handled through the NIH Ethics Office, and the actual screening is done by the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH (ACD), with recommendations made to the NIH DEC who will determine whether these awards meet the regulatory criteria described above (see General Acceptance of Gifts Associated with Awards -- 5 CFR 2635.204(d)). See the List of Approved Awards.
Awards that only bestow the following do not require ACD review:
- An honor (no cash component);
- A plaque or trophy of little intrinsic value;
- Travel expenses to an event; or
- Waiver of registration fee or other attendance at the award ceremony, dinner, or gala.
Where gifts associated with an award or recognition cannot be accepted under other authorities (see Note 1above), but do not include cash or an investment interest, and an award form is required, the employee's DEC must 'pre-screen' and determine whether the award meets the regulatory criteria for bona fide, as described above (see General Acceptance of Gifts Associated with Awards -- 5 CFR 2635.204(d)).
Note 2: All award forms submitted by senior NIH staff, and forms submitted by other employees seeking permission to personally accept gifts valued at $2500 or more must be reviewed by the NIH Ethics Advisory Committee (NEAC) prior to the NIH DEC decision. The NEAC meets approximately every two weeks (see meeting dates).
When reviewing an employee's request for approval to accept gifts associated with a 'pre-screened' award, the DEC should consider the following points:
Gifts associated with an award from an outside organization (even one that is a prohibited source) may be accepted for work performed at the NIH provided that the employee's acceptance is consistent with all applicable rules, including the limitations discussed above.
Example 1: An intramural employee works in a laboratory that has a CRADA and a contract with Bristol Myer Squibb (BMS). The employee, however, has no personal or supervisory involvement in or responsibility for the award or administration of either of these mechanisms, and is not involved in the work under the CRADA or contract. In this situation, the employee might be approved to accept an award from BMS because BMS is not an organization with interests that would be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee's duties.
Example 2: An extramural Health Scientists Administrator (HSA) could be permitted to receive an award from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) as long as the HSA does not currently administer grants, contracts, or other funded projects awarded to JHU and can be recused (disqualified) from participating in all official matters involving JHU for one year following receipt of the award.
Example 3. An NIH intramural scientist may accept an award from a national voluntary or professional association of individuals, provided the scientist does not have responsibilities for matters affecting the organization. Even though most of the members of the organization either are current or potential Principal Investigators on NIH grants from the employee's IC, the scientist is not in a position to perform duties that will directly affect the organization or its members.
- When a cash gift is associated with an award, the award must be pre-screened by the ACD and the NIH DEC before an employee may be given approval to accept the award. The NIH Ethics Office manages the pre-screening process. (See List of Approved Awards.)
- When an award does not offer a cash gift, but does include tangible gifts that necessitate the use of an award form, the award may be accepted if the employee's DEC determines that acceptance by the employee will be consistent with all applicable rules, including the limitations discussed above.
Example 4. The Director of an Institute may accept a crystal vase valued at $175 offered by the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) as an award for meritorious public service, if acceptance would be consistent with all applicable rules and the IC Director could be recused from specific party matters involving the ASCB for one year. Due to the high visibility of an IC Director, all awards for IC Directors must be reviewed and approved by the NIH Deputy Ethics Counselor.
Official Duty Activity
Acceptance of an award need not be approved as an outside activity. The employee may accept the award either as part of his/her official duties, or in his/her personal capacity while on approved annual leave.
Disqualification (Recusal) Requirement
Under 5 CFR § 5501.112 (,18 pages), any employee who accepts gifts associated with an award which is approved via the award form (under 5 CFR 2635.204(d) or 5 CFR 5501.111) will be required to disqualify him/herself from all particular matters involving the award donor from the date of the notification (letter or email) to one year following receipt of the associated recognition and gift(s).
In cases where the use of an award form is not required (i.e., when all the gifts associated with a award can be accepted under other authorities, such as sponsored travel or a WAG), no recusal is required.
Use the appropriate HHS and/or NIH forms to document the approval of gifts to an NIH employee from an outside organization. NIH policy requires Award and WAG requests to be submitted via NEES (https://nees.nih.gov)
For additional information, see NIH Manual Chapter 2400-10 Gifts from Outside Sources (6/16/08), specifically section F entitled Exception: Awards from Outside Organizations, or contact your IC's Deputy Ethics Counselor(, 1 page) or your Ethics Coordinator/Specialist(, 4 pages).