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DoD Official Discusses Standards, Conduct for Federal Employees

By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2008 – Showing appreciation for the men and women that risk their lives to defend the United States is essential, and yet rumors and fears about ethical restrictions that limit the amount of gift giving is a concern for many philanthropic organizations.

Lee Bradley, director of the Department of Defense Ethics, Standards and Conduct Office came on ASYLive BlogTalkRadio yesterday to clarify some of these concerns.

"I recognize that a whole lot of people believe that gift rules are very restrictive, ... but federal employees really live by the creed of ‘public service is a public trust.’ We are governed not only by our joint ethics regulations that exist in DoD, but we are also governed by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Standards and Conduct," Bradley explained.

Bradley went on to say that many of these restrictions are actually not as prohibitive as some individuals might think. In fact, exceptions are made in many circumstances, particularly for wounded servicemembers. The basic gift rules in DoD are that government employees may not accept gifts over $20 from 'prohibited sources,' which are DoD contractors or outside entities seeking to do business with DoD or the government, or if it appears that the gift is being given because of an individual’s official capacity.

"We don't want there to be an appearance that the gift is being given to curry favor with the federal government employee in order to get a leg up on the competition for certain government contracts," Bradley explained.

"If for instance, a corporation wanted to give a beautiful Waterford statue of the capital to the commanding general of Fort McNair, we would conclude that that gift was being given because of his official capacity," Bradley said, addressing the part of the law about individuals’ official capacity.

However, if a gift is given to a group of individuals and not targeted to individuals specifically because of their official position, this law does not apply.

"If for instance, a wealthy philanthropist wants to invite all Navy personnel in the San Diego area to a San Diego Padres baseball game, the Department of Ethics will then determine if [the philanthropist] is a prohibited source: Doing business with DoD? Is he attempting to get contracts with DoD? If it passes the first test and the answer is no, we then make sure that a high-ranking official is not singled out and given the ticket because of his official position. Instead, this philanthropist is giving these tickets to all Navy personnel in the area. Under these circumstances it is perfectly acceptable for the Navy personnel to accept the tickets."

These laws are further modified when it comes to wounded soldiers. "About two years ago, as a result of the public's interest in supporting the war effort, Congress passed a provision in the DoD Appropriations Act that gives the Department of Defense more latitude in this area," Bradley said.

He explained that if a "servicemember incurs a combat-related disability, or illness or injury in a combat operation or zone while on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, he or she can accept an unsolicited gift." This rule also applies to family members as long as it does not violate another statute, such as the bribery statute.

The only restriction with this law is that if the gift received is valued at an excess of $335 dollars or an excess of $1,000 dollars in multiple gifts from the same source over a year, then an ethics official from the department must review the gift and make a written determination. This does not mean that it is unlikely that the servicemember will be able to keep the gift however, Bradley explained. "I have seen a gift of a home valued at $250,000 that had to be reviewed, and the servicemember met all qualifications and still received the home."

Bradley went on to discuss restrictions placed on public officials when attending events. "When it comes to DoD officials attending events, the organization cannot use your official title to draw people into the event, but it doesn’t mean that you can't participate in these events," Bradley explained.

In addition, when attending an event, an official must be careful to not express favoritism for a specific non-federal entity thus giving it "preferred status." A general cannot say, 'The Red Cross is the nation's premier disaster-response organization.' They must instead say, "The Red Cross is one of the nation's premier disaster-response organizations. It is really just a ban on giving one organization preferred status over another."

Bradley stressed that it is incredibly important that federal employees keep up to date on this information. She encouraged anyone with questions to visit the DoD Standards of Conduct Office Web site for the latest updates.

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Related Sites:
Defense Department Standards of Conduct Office
Defense Department Bloggers Roundtable

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