Gifts: What would Justin Bieber do?

Thursday - 12/22/2011, 2:00am EST

If you are planning to give the boss a Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanza present — either out of devotion, fear or for job security — be advised it better be cheap. Like maybe a clay ash tray your kid made.

By the same token, if an outsider doing business with you and your agency offers you a big-screen TV or an all-expenses vacation in Cancun, don't start packing your Speedo. Just say no. Either that, or start studying prison etiquette.

The wise grinches at the K Street law firm of Tully, Rinckey PLLC here in D.C. have one word of advice for you: Fuggedabout it!

Ok, two words.

Whatever.

The point is that there are federal laws governing who can give whom a gift, and how much whom can spend.

According to the law firm, "government workers who attempt to give superior even moderately priced gifts could find themselves facing suspension or removal...Employees who wish to extend holiday cheer through a gift for the boss are limited to a cap of $10."

Ten dollars. Think of what that will buy. In this day and age, even with the recession, that's maybe a cup or two of your favorite brew at Starbucks.

Ten dollars will get you a musical Justin Bieber tooth brush. I bought three (boy, are the lucky recipients going to be surprised!) for $9.99 each. Now the question is would the sales tax put me over the limit if I were a fed courting my supervisor? It would be a shame being assigned to a chain gang over a couple of pennies.

Much, much more serious than a gift for the boss, is the situation where a federal worker — say a contracting officer — accepts a gift from a "prohibited source." There are a variety of definitions but the bottom line is that it is somebody who wants something from the employee or his agency. Like he/she gives you a big-screen TV, hockey tickets, a mink coat, etc. And you accept it.

The tough part is drawing the line between customers and bona fide friends. Over the years, people do develop genuine friendships. In cases like that keep the total amount of the gift (or gifts over a one-year period) to under $50. Or you and your friend might wind up being fired or fined or, best case scenario, put in the same cell.

The flashpoint, according to the law firm, is that "this policy can really become complicated...when a simple gift leads to a favor because of the position the federal employee holds. The exchange can quickly domino into ethical questions and criminal charges. " Bottom line, according to attorney John P. Mahoney, is that it's the thought — not the price tag — that counts!


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

You know that smell when it first starts to rain, described by MentalFloss as a "clean, pleasant smell?" There's a word for it: petrichor. From the Greek for stone (petra) and the blood of gods and goddesses (ichor) — which I'm guessing is a reference to the rain.


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