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PCS season and gifts to Air Force employees

  • Published
  • By Emily B. Myers
  • 66th Air Base Group Office of the Staff Judge Advocate

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- As permanent change of station season approaches, thoughts turn to showing appreciation and gratitude to departing members by giving farewell gifts.  

While appreciated, farewell gifts must be appropriate to the occasion and comply with ethics rules. Below is general guidance for employees to follow when giving farewell gifts.

Individual gifts

Department of Defense employees generally may not give gifts to a supervisor. Additionally, unless there is an independent personal basis justifying the gift, federal employees generally may also not accept gifts from personnel who receive less pay. However, there are two exceptions to this rule.

First, a subordinate may, on an occasional basis, including any occasion on which gifts are traditionally given or exchanged, give a gift to a supervisor if it has a total market value of $10 or less. Cash gifts are not allowed under this exception.

Second, a subordinate may give a gift when the gift is being given on a special, infrequent occasion, such as marriage or the birth or adoption of a child. This includes when the official supervisor-subordinate relationship is terminated due to retirement, resignation, or transfer. Keep in mind that although there is no dollar limit for individuals giving a gift for a special occasion, the gift and cost should be appropriate to the occasion. Some factors that can guide you are the nature of the gift and its monetary value.

Group gifts

There are specific rules that govern group gifts to a superior. A DOD employee is permitted to accept a gift from a group that includes subordinates if the occasion is one which terminates the supervisory relationship, such as retirement or permanent change of station. The gift should be for the tour of duty and commemorate the service of the departing individual. The value of the gift must not exceed $300, regardless of the number of people contributing to the gift.

While contributions for a group gift may be solicited, the organizer of the group gift may not ask for a contribution of more than $10 dollars. An individual, however, may voluntarily contribute more than $10. Employees may not solicit donations from employees who are lower ranking than them, and all contributions must be voluntary.

Importantly, the $300 limit on group gifts does not include the cost of food, refreshments, and entertainment at an event such as a farewell party. For example, employees could gather donations for a $300 group gift, and also separately pool their money together for $100 worth of refreshments for a farewell party.

Employees should be careful about individuals contributing to multiple group gifts for the same superior as this should generally be avoided. The cost of the group gifts will be aggregated toward the $300 limit if one individual contributes to multiple group gifts. For example, if an employee contributes $10 toward a $200 framed gift to a senior leader, and also contributes $10 for a $150 item from the flight to the same senior leader, the total value of both gifts will be aggregated, resulting in a group gift of $350. Since this exceeds the $300 threshold, the senior leader would not be able to accept either gift. In this example, if the employee had only contributed to the $200 framed gift and not the $150 item, the departing leader could accept both gifts because they came from separate groups of subordinates and both were under the $300 limit.

Finally, it is important to remember that only federal employees can contribute to a farewell gift. This includes military members and civilians (appropriated fund and non-appropriated fund). Contractors and non-employees cannot give gifts or contribute to group gifts.

Failure to observe ethical rules on giving and receiving gifts could lead to criminal, civil and administrative sanctions. For service members, this includes punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Employees should be sure to sure to abide by the ethical rules when giving and receiving gifts during PCS season.

When in doubt, contact the legal office for advice on whether a retirement or farewell gift is permissible.  The Judge Advocate team of attorneys can help answer questions regarding ethical gift giving.