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April 23, 2014
Brittany Carlson, Belvoir Eagle

Fort Belvoir, Va. (April 24, 2014) - Federal employees, including servicemembers, aren't allowed to solicit private organizations for gifts in an official capacity. They can accept certain offers, but should be aware of the difference between the two.

"It's really important as a government official to remember that you're serving the public. If we ask for a donation or ask for a gift, then basically that could create a conflict of interest," said Albert Veldhuyzen, chief of administrative law for the Fort Belvoir Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.

"These ethics rules prohibit soliciting gifts and offers made should only be accepted if they are in the interests of the Army and approved at the appropriate level in accordance with regulations," he said.

Soliciting means asking any non-federal organization (like the USO or Belvoir Federal Credit Union) for a gift, Veldhuyzen said. Soliciting could lead to favoring one organization over another or endorsing an organization which is prohibited by the Department of Defense Joint Ethics Regulation (DoD 5500.7-R).

However, an organization can make an offer without being asked.

"Let's say a unit's having some kind of an event and they go to the credit union or any other non-federal entity and ask, 'Can you guys provide the refreshments for this event?' That would be soliciting a gift," he said. "On the other hand … if they just announce the event and the credit union finds out about it and they contact the person who's in charge of the event and say, 'We'd like to help. Can we provide bottles of water or a cake?,' that's them offering and you can accept that offer."

The key is not to ask a certain organization for anything in particular, Veldhuyzen said.

"If an organization calls and says, 'We heard that you're having this event. How can we help?' then the person organizing that event can say 'Well, these are the things that we need for this event … and if you'd like to help, you choose how you'd like to help,'" he said.

Army units and organizations can only accept certain gifts, according to Army Regulation 1-100.

Before they accept anything they must first "consider the propriety of the gift, as well as the relationship between the intrinsic value of the gift to the Army, and the cost of acceptance and maintenance," the regulation states.

All Federal employees are public servants and they should not accept gifts for their services, Veldhuyzen said.

"As a government employee, you're supposed to provide services to the public for free, because we're already being paid by the taxpayer," he said. "If someone wants to give a gift to you because of a service you provided, you should say, 'I'm a government employee and I cannot accept that.'"

This prevents organizations from expecting something in return, he added.

"Then you get into a situation where you're really favoring one entity over another and that's what we want to avoid," he said.

Army Regulation 215-1, section 13-14, governs how nonappropriated fund organizations, such as the Directorate for Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs, can accept gifts and donations.

However, "the rules are pretty similar," Veldhuyzen said.

For example, both regulations state that all gifts are subject to value limitations (larger gifts must be accepted at a higher level of approval) and donors cannot be given special privileges in return for a gift.

There are exceptions in certain situations, such as accepting gifts from foreign officials.

The Office of the Staff Judge Advocate can offer specific guidance for individual situations, Veldhuyzen added.

"If anyone has questions about accepting a particular gift, they can ask us and we'll let them know," he said.

For more information, call the OSJA at (703) 805-5013.