The Dos and the Don’ts of Gift Giving

Dec 04, 2019
Bidsync Industry Blog

Can I Give A Gift to A Government Agency?

Whenever we host a webinar about “How to Do Business with the Government,” we’re often asked: can I give a gift to a government agency?

And it always stirs a bit of debate. So, we’re helping you understand where to draw the gift-giving line:

What is the maximum value for a gift that would be acceptable for a government purchasing agent or other government purchasing officials to legally accept?

The short answer to this question is that every agency has its own set of rules, which can be challenged given the “gray area” that lives in their interpretation. For example: Usually, the policies allow for a gift of “nominal” value, which typically falls below $25. However, the vast majority of public agencies will forgo establishment of a value threshold and adopt a zero-tolerance policy. It is the easiest to enforce. Therefore, the safest business approach for suppliers is to expect a zero-tolerance policy to be in place and forgo gift giving at all. Here’s why…

Gift Giving 101

While there are few definitive rules governing gift-giving in the private sector if any at all, giving a gift to a government official could result in fines and jail time.  Statute 18 U.S.C. § 201 states that "Bribery of public officials and witnesses prohibits government officials from accepting bribes, gifts, and gratuities." Before giving any type of gift you should ask yourself "why am I giving a gift to this particular person?" If the gift is intended to garner favor with regards to a contract you are seeking, or if it is a thank you gift for selecting your company for a contract you most likely are violating the law.  

Bribes

Let’s say, for example, you have submitted a proposal for a federal contract and, while the Procurement Officer and his team are reviewing all submissions, you decide to send over tickets to a baseball game in which you have season tickets. It doesn’t matter if you have a personal relationship with someone on the team, or just think it’s “good business”. (Everyone does it in the private sector, right?), it can be argued that your gift was given as a means to gain a favorable advantage over your competitors. This can be considered bribery and is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Gratuities

Keep in mind this statute not only includes gifts prior to the decision of a contract but also what you might consider a “thank you” gift.

For example, you’ve won the contract, and you send those same baseball tickets over out of gratitude. You may still face fines if someone were to find out, as a gift cannot be given to a federal employee because of – or for an – official act. This is considered a gratuity. Even if you know the Contracting Officer personally. And, while it may be viewed as a lesser offense, it can still carry up to 2 years in prison.

Exceptions to Every Rule

Like every rule, there are a few exceptions to be aware of. While the Contracting Officer is most likely not allowed to accept a free meal, refreshments are allowed, i.e. soft drinks and cookies at a seminar you are hosting.  A Contracting Officer may also be able to accept free attendance at a well-attended gathering your company is sponsoring, and (as mentioned above) a gift with a nominal value of $20-$25 may be acceptable as long as it is not cash.

Now, obviously, not all gifts given from a contractor or supplier are given for nefarious reasons. It may be something you are just accustomed to doing after years of working in the private sector. A good rule of thumb would be to check with your agency prior to sending any gifts along. There are rules in place and the government employees will be up to speed on their agency’s rules and regulations. Keep all of this in mind when dealing with any federal government agency. If you have any doubts about gift giving, it is probably a safe move to avoid it all together. 

What About State and Local Governments?

Every state is different, but we found a great resource you should consult when dealing with your state. This site covers all 50 states legislator gift restriction rules.