‘Tis the season to consult your Ethics Counselor! Below are some issues that come up annually during the holidays. See Page 8 for a discussion on NFEs and BOOFOOs.
GIFTS—Cash is NEVER an acceptable gift!
Personal Gifts: Anyone can accept any gift from their spouse, family, or close personal friend. Issues only arise when gifts are given solely because of a member’s position. These gifts are thus governed by 5 U.S.C. § 2635 and are discussed below.
Outside Sources: Federal personnel may not solicit, nor accept, a gift from a source seeking to do business with the U.S. Government (or risk making an appearance on Navy Times). However, military members may accept personal gifts up to $20 in value from one source per occasion, and $50 per year, with the exception of gifts from a foreign government valued at $390 or less.
Flag Officers: All gifts must be reviewed and documented by a JAG.
Superiors: Superiors cannot solicit nor accept gifts from their subordinates. However, an exception to that is a superior can accept a gift from a subordinate on an occasion in which gifts are traditionally given if the gift is less than $10. Superiors gifting to subordinates are not limited to $10.
White Elephant: An anonymous gift exchange is authorized under 5 U.S.C. § 2635.304 if it is unsolicited and under $10 in value. This only pertains to groups that differ in rank (e.g. a department).
Holiday decorations within government offices, buildings, and other establishments are authorized, and even encouraged to boost morale during a season in which Sailors are often far away from home. Generally, it is advisable to choose neutral decorations like pine trees, sparkly lights, and reindeer with googly eyes. But in fact, there is no Navy instruction directly prohibiting religious holiday decorations. The distinction is this: if one religion is allowed, all must be allowed (Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984), and Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989)). Therefore, as long as there is a clear, unbiased command policy in place, it is perfectly acceptable to open the quarterdeck, or anywhere on base, for any and all religious organizations to place their holiday marker.