Office of Government Ethics seeks stricter gift rules

Tuesday - 10/18/2011, 10:26am EDT

Julie Eirinberg, associate general counsel, Office of Government Ethics

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Federal employees could soon be facing tougher rules for interacting with lobbyists.

The Office of Government Ethics wants to get rid of exceptions that allow political appointees to attend events and accept gifts of less than $50 a year from lobbyists — known as "de minimis" exceptions.

But the new OGE rules would go even further, blocking all Executive Branch employees from those exceptions, which include taking gifts of less than $20 at one time.

Julie Eirinberg, the associate general counsel at OGE, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris did not come out of the blue.

The new rule began with an executive order President Barack Obama signed shortly after taking office and builds on existing regulations, she explained.

Eirinberg said federal employees often come into contact with "prohibited sources," people who are seeking action from the government, which includes lobbyists and contractors, she said.

For example, if a contractor holds an educational breakfast and invites an employee, the prohibition on gifts could apply, Eirinberg said.

But, "The gift rules are gift rules and not no-contact rules," she added, and agencies are free to pay the admittance fee for an employee to attend a work-related event.