Holiday party attendance guide for DoD personnel

By Department of Defense Office of General Council

The holiday season is traditionally a time of parties, receptions, and exchanging gifts. However, the Standards of Conduct still apply. To ensure personnel do not unwittingly violate the standards, a brief summary of the applicable rules for parties, open houses, and receptions are below. 

Parties, Open-Houses, and Receptions

Parties, Open-Houses, and Receptions Hosted by Non-Prohibited Sources: Federal personnel may attend social events sponsored by non-prohibited sources if none of the guests are charged admission (e.g. most holiday receptions and open-houses).

A prohibited source is anyone who:

  • Seeks official action by the employee’s agency;
  • Does business or seeks to do business with the employee’s agency;
  • Conducts activities regulated by the employee’s agency;
  • Has interests that may be substantially affected by the employee’s performance of duty

Parties, Open-Houses, and Receptions Hosted by Prohibited Sources Including Contractors: The general rule is that Federal personnel may not accept gifts from prohibited sources, including contractors and contractor personnel.

  • Exception #1: Federal personnel may accept gifts (other than cash) not exceeding $20, as long as the total amount of gifts accepted by an employee from that source does not exceed $50 for the year.
  • Exception #2: Federal personnel may accept gifts that are based on a bona fide personal relationship. (Such personal gifts are actually paid for by the
  • friend/contractor employee rather than the contractor.)
  • Exception #3: Federal personnel may generally attend an open-house or reception, and accept any gift of refreshments if the ethics official determines that the event is a widely attended gathering, and the employee’s supervisor determines that it is in the agency’s interest that the employee attends.
  • Exception #4: Federal personnel may accept invitations that are open to the public, all Government employees, or all military personnel.
  • Exception #5: Federal personnel may accept invitations offered to a group or class that is not related to Government employment. (For example, if the building owner where your office is located throws a reception for all of the tenants of the building.)
  • Exception #6: Refreshments consisting of soft drinks, coffee, pastries, or similar refreshments not constituting a meal may be accepted since they are not considered to be a gift.
  • Exception #7: Gifts based on a spouse’s outside business or employment relationship may be accepted. For example, a Federal employee’s spouse works at ABC. The Federal employee may accompany the spouse to the ABC employee’s holiday party since the invitation is to the spouse as an ABC employee, and not to the Federal employee because of his or her position.

Remember: Federal personnel may not accept a gift from an outside source, even where one of the exceptions applies, if the gift was solicited or is given in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act (this is called a bribe).

Parties, Open-Houses, and Receptions Hosted by Other Federal Personnel:

  1. Invitation from your subordinate: You may accept personal hospitality at the residence of a subordinate that is customarily provided on the occasion.
  2. Invitations from your boss or a co-worker: No restrictions. Enjoy!

Other important information

  • You may not solicit outside sources for contributions for your party. This includes funds, food, and items.
  • Generally office parties are unofficial events, and you may not use appropriated funds to pay for them.
  • Beware that door prizes or drawings could involve gambling, which would require compliance with state statutes and Federal regulations. DoD regulations prohibit gambling in the Pentagon and on Federal property or while in a duty status. GSA regulations ban gambling in GSA-owned or controlled buildings.
  • You may not use appropriated funds to purchase and send Greeting cards.
  • As a general rule, participation at holiday social events is personal, not official, and therefore use of government vehicles to/from such events would not be authorized. However, there may be very limited circumstances in which a senior official or officer is invited to attend because of his official position and where he will be performing official functions at the event as opposed to being invited because he or she is an important person. In these situations, use of a government vehicle may be authorized, subject to normal “home-to-work” transportation restrictions. Note, however, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to justify the use of a government vehicle when a function involves one’s immediate staff/office or events comprised of personal friends. All requests for use of a government vehicle to attend holiday social events should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Rules Applicable to Contractor Employees: Many contractors have rules of ethics or business practices that are similar to the Federal rules. Take these rules into consideration before offering contractor employees gifts or opportunities that they may not be able to accept.

For more information on parities and Department of Defense ethical standards, contact the Stuttgart Law Center at DSN: 421-4152/ civ: 0711-729-4152.