Invitations from Outside Sources

Generally, a Government employee may not accept, in his or her personal capacity, invitations from outside sources for free attendance at events, such as conferences, unless certain requirements are met. The payment by an outside source of fees charged for an event is considered to be a gift under the ethics regulations. In order for a Federal employee to be able to accept any gift from an outside source, one of the exceptions to the gift rules must apply.

Exceptions to the Gift Rules

An employee may accept:

  • a gift valued at $20 or less, provided that the total value of gifts from the same person is not more than $50 in a calendar year 
  • a gift motivated solely by a family relationship or personal friendship
  • a gift based on an employee's or his spouse's outside business or employment

Widely Attended Gathering Exception

Another exception that may apply is the “widely attended gathering” exception. If an event qualifies as a widely attended gathering, the employee may accept the offer of free attendance.  An agency ethics official considers several factors in order to determine whether an event qualifies as a widely attended gathering.  A few of those factors are listed below:

  • Is the employee’s attendance in the interest of the agency?
  • Does the donor have interests that may be substantially affected by the employee’s official duties?
  • Is the sponsor of the event paying for the cost of the employee’s attendance?
  • Is someone other than the sponsor of the event paying for the cost of the employee’s attendance?

The widely attended gathering exception is a complex provision of the regulations, and the list above is not a comprehensive list of all of the factors that an ethics official must consider. This page is not intended to provide a comprehensive discussion of this exception. A more detailed discussion can be found in the legal advisory, DO-07-047, issued by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in 2007.

Note: The information on this page is not a substitute for individual advice. Agency ethics officials should be consulted about specific situations.