Ethics Answers | July/August 2019

Ethics Answers

Question: I work in the political section at a U.S. Mission to an international organization and because I negotiate routinely at the international organization, I have a “delegate” badge for it. A local art museum offers free admission to individuals with badges for the international organization; tickets would otherwise be $25. The museum does not offer free admission to other U.S. government personnel in the city. May I accept the free admission?

Answer: No. A favorable rate or commercial discount available that is not available to allU.S. government employees or uniformed service members (e.g., a government rate at a hotel) is considered a “gift” for purposes of the federal ethics rules. A USG employee would be permitted to accept a favorable rate or commercial discount offered to members of a group or class, in which membership is unrelated to U.S. government employment. The issue here is that the international organization-related discount is not available to all USG employees, only those with a badge for the international organization, but at the same time, such discounts are related to USG employment, because employees only have badges for the international organization by virtue of their USG duties and responsibilities. This means that a Mission employee could not accept an international organization-related discount valued at more than $20 (or multiple such discounts valued at more than $50 from one source in a calendar year), which is the value cap for gifts from outside prohibited sources. If the museum gave free admission to all USG employees, an individual could accept it.  

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