Office of Ethics
United States Department of Agriculture

USDA Ethics Issuance

99-2 Acceptance of Travel from Non-Federal Sources


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE - OFFICE OF ETHICS

ETHICS ISSUANCE: Number 99-2
Date: January 7, 2000 (Updated April 2, 2004)

SUBJECT: ACCEPTANCE OF TRAVEL EXPENSES FROM NON-FEDERAL SOURCES

1. Purpose

This document establishes procedures for agency acceptance of funds for the reimbursement of official travel and subsistence and for in-kind assistance from a non-Federal source for employee attendance at meetings or similar functions.

2. Authority

Title 31 U.S.C. § 1353 grants Executive Branch departments and agencies authority to accept travel assistance to events held away from a Federal employee’s official duty station. This law was enacted as a provision in the Ethics Reform Act of 1989. In November 1992, the General Services Administration (GSA), in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), issued joint implementing regulations at 41 CFR Parts 301-1 and 304-1.

On September 29, 1999, the Secretary of Agriculture directed the Office of Ethics (OE), in consultation with the Chief Financial Officer and the General Counsel to: 1) establish a department wide administrative process for handling unsolicited offers of travel expenses from non-Federal sources; 2) delegate authority to approve the acceptance of payments at a high level among agencies and staff offices; 3) prescribe a standard form for reporting each instance in which this authority is used; and 4) develop and deliver a training program for Ethics Advisors (who are to conduct the conflict analyses) and Deputy Ethics Officials, who are delegated approval authority to accept the gift on behalf of the agency.

3. General

The authority to accept travel expenses from non-Federal sources permits Federal agencies to accept the gift of financial support for the travel of its employees to attend meetings or similar functions that employees have been authorized to attend in an official capacity on behalf of the employing agency provided the value to the agency offsets any possible appearance problem that may attach to the acceptance. Such financial support is not considered an improper augmentation of appropriations nor is it contrary to the ethics rules on gift acceptance. While the purpose of the trip must relate to the official duties of the employee, the trip must not be for the purpose of performing one’s line responsibilities such as: investigations, inspections, audits, site visits, negotiations or litigation. While this authority allows agencies to focus their limited travel resources to direct line activities and accept outside funding for peripheral activities, it must be prudently applied in order to protect the integrity and appearance of our programs.

4. Definitions

4.1 "In-kind Assistance" means goods, services, or other benefits (such as airline tickets, pre-payment of lodgings, other travel related fees, or waiver of any fees that a non-Federal source normally collects from meeting attendees such as registration fees) provided directly to the traveler from a non-Federal source for travel, subsistence, and related expenses in lieu of funds paid to an agency (see Section 4.6 "Travel, subsistence and related expenses" below).

4.2 "Meeting or Similar Function" means a conference, seminar, speaking engagement, symposium, training course, or similar off-site event. The term excludes travel required to carry out an agency’s statutory or regulatory functions, that is, a function essential to carrying out an agency mission such as: investigations, inspections, audits, site visits, negotiations, or litigation. Also excluded are promotional vendor training, travel related to training, long term TDY, or other meetings held for the primary purpose of marketing the non-Federal sources’s products.

4.3 "Non-Federal Source" means a person or organization other than the Federal government. The term includes any individual, private or commercial entity, non-profit organization or association or international or multinational organization (irrespective of whether an agency holds membership in the organization or association), foreign, state, or local government and the government of the District of Columbia.

4.4 "Payment" means funds paid by a non-Federal source for travel, subsistence, and related expenses by check or similar instrument to an agency.

4.5 "Deputy Ethics Official (DEO)" is defined in Ethics Issuance 02-2. Briefly restated, a DEO is an Agency Administrator or head of a Staff Office, or his or her designees, responsible for administering the ethics program within his or her agency or staff office.

4.6 "Travel, subsistence and related expenses (travel expenses)" means transportation, food, lodging or other travel-related services for official travel (e.g., baggage expenses, services of guides, drivers, interpreters, communication services, hire of conference rooms, lodging taxes, laundry/dry cleaning, taxi fares, etc.). These expenses also include conference or training fees (whole or in part), as well as benefits that cannot be paid under the applicable travel regulation, but which are incident to the meeting provided in kind, and made available by the meeting sponsor(s) to all attendees. For example, this definition as applied here would allow an employee or spouse to attend a sporting event hosted by the sponsor(s) in connection with the meeting that is available to all participants. However, it would not allow the employee to accept tickets to a professional sporting event, concert or similar event, for use at a later date even if such tickets were given to all other participants.

5. Delegations

Each Deputy Ethics Official, or his or her designee, is delegated responsibility to approve the acceptance of an offer from a non-Federal source to finance the travel expenses of an employee within the Deputy Ethics Official’s organization. The Ethics Advisor is delegated responsibility to make the conflict of interest analysis and to recommend to the Deputy Ethics Official either acceptance, or non-acceptance, of the payment from the non-Federal source.

6. General Policies

6.1 Bar on soliciting non-Federal travel assistance: The offer of payment of non-Federal travel assistance must not be solicited by the agency or employee/traveler. No Ethics Advisor shall recommend acceptance, and no Deputy Ethics Official shall authorize acceptance, of travel or expenses for travel which evidences that it was solicited.

6.2 Timing: Generally, approval for a traveler to engage in travel sponsored by a non-Federal source must be obtained before the fact. Occassionally, employees are offered additional travel assistance while in travel status. Employees may accept such assistance under the following conditions:

    Same Source:

    Employees may accept additional travel assistance while in travel status when it is offered from the same source if:

    1. the assistance offered is comparable in value to that offered to or purchased by other attendees, and
    2. the agency did not decline such assistance in advance of the employee's travel.

    Alternate Source:

    Employees in travel status may also accept assistance from a source not authorized by their agency prior to travel when the value of the assistance is within the maximum allowance stated on their travel authorization. Such assistance is limited to meals, lodging and transportation only, and the traveler must request agency authorization for acceptance within 7 working days after the trip ends. WARNING: If the agency does not authorize acceptance, it could require the traveler to repay the non-Federal source without reimbursement. Furthermore, employees who accept payment from a non-Federal source in violation of travel regulations may also be required to personally pay the general fund of the Treasury an amount equal to any payment accepted with no entitlement of reimbursement by the agency (41 CFR§ 304-3.18).

The documentation supporting that approval outlined in section 6.7 below, may, in emergencies, be developed after the fact to memorialize a verbal recommendation by the Ethics Advisor and approval by the Deputy Ethics Official.

6.3 Spousal Travel: The sponsoring non-Federal source may also fund, and the agency may accept, the travel expenses of the employee’s spouse if the nature of the event is such that spousal attendance is expected by other attendees and if it conforms to the criteria set out in 41 CFR § 304-1.3(b).

6.4 Premium travel and accommodations: If the sponsoring non-Federal source is providing full in-kind assistance, then the agency may accept, on behalf of its employees, payment for premium class (other than first class) travel accommodations and/or lodging and meals the value of which exceed the normal government lodging and per diem allowances. When the applicable limitation will be exceeded, payment should be required in advance of the travel. The accommodation or other benefit furnished must be comparable in value to that offered to, or purchased by, other similarly situated individuals attending the same meeting or similar function. Such relative extravagance, however, should be a factor in weighing the appearance problem in the conflict analysis and thus can militate against an approval recommendation. (NOTE: The requirement of the current Federal Travel Regulations governing first class travel accommodations must be met if payment for such accommodations is to be authorized by the Deputy Ethics official.)

6.5 Partial Payments for Travel: The agency may approve a reduced per diem in accordance with 41 CFR § 304-1.3(e). When payment from the non-Federal source is partial but includes one or more meals, the travler continues to be subject to the requirement to make appropriate reductions from his or her travel claim.

6.6 Bar on Self-Approval and Approval for One’s Supervisor: No Ethics Advisor shall recommend acceptance of payment for travel or expenses for travel for his/her own travel or the expenses for travel by his/her immediate supervisor. Similarly, no Deputy Ethics Official shall authorize acceptance of payment for travel or expenses for travel for his or her own travel or the expenses for travel for his or her immediate supervisor. An Under Secretary must approve an Agency Administrator’s travel under this authority.

6.7 Documentation: Before making his or her decision on approval, the Deputy Ethics Official should be provided, and the Ethics Advisor should retain copies of:

6.7.1 The written offer of payment by the non-Federal sponsor.

6.7.2 A completed Approval and Report of Travel Funds Received from Non-Federal Sources (copy on the Forms Page of this site).

6.7.3 Documentation of all travel assistance exceeding $250/travel event (Ethics Advisors may obtain access to the SF 326, Semi-Annual Report of Payments Accepted from a Non-Federal Source, on the Forms Page of this site).

6.8 Gift Acceptance: The gift of payment of travel support may only be received by the agency. Under no circumstances should the traveler accept cash or a negotiable instrument made out to him or herself to reimburse his or her out-of-pocket outlay for travel, lodging or subsistence. Refer to 41 CFR § 304-1.6.

6.9 Conflict of Interest Analysis: Prior to final approval, a concise written analysis of the factors considered will be completed on the reverse of the approval form and signed by the Ethics Advisor performing the evaluation.

6.10 Training: The Office of Ethics shall administer training to all Deputy Ethics Officials and Ethics Advisors on this procedure and provide advice and assistance whenever requested. A training module on this subject and the text of the 41 CFR 304-1 reside on the Ethics web site.

7. Exclusions

Travel conducted in the following situations is excluded from the procedural requirements of this document.

7.1 Cooperative Agreements: Travel for which specific provision is made in these written cooperative agreements must be in writing, document a non-assistance relationship, and be expressly authorized by statute. Such cooperative agreements are not subject to the provision of 31 U.S.C. §6301 et. seq. (The Federal Grant and Agreement Act), and generally are characterized by a mutual interest among and contribution by all parties.

7.2 Government Travel: Travel for which the Department or another agency of the Federal government pays.

7.3 Personal Capacity: Travel which is accepted in an employee’s private or personal capacity and with no connection to his/her Federal position or duties. (Travel in such capacity should be reviewed in light of 5 CFR Part 2635, Subpart B, regarding gift acceptance by employees).

8. Financial Disclosure Reports

Non-Federal assistance accepted under 31 U.S.C. § 1353 is not reportable on public or confidential financial disclosure reports because this assistance is accepted by agencies only, not by employees. The financial disclosure report of individual employees show gifts of travel they accepted in their private, unofficial capacities.

9. Employee Travel Documents and Semi-Annual Reports

Annually, by the 15th of each May and November, Mission Area Ethics Advisors shall submit a record of travel events exceeding $250 to OE on the SF 326. (The May 15 due date covers travel for the preceding October 1 through March 31. The November 15 due date covers travel for the preceding April 1 through September 30.) Mission areas shall ensure that statements, forms, and other records relating to such travel events are destroyed 1 year after the SF 326 is submitted to OE. OE shall, in turn, copy all SF 326 reports received and forward the original to OGE. OE will destroy retained copies after a three-year period.

10. Sanctions

If a mission area fails to meet the requirements of this procedure, the respective Deputy Ethics Official is required to ensure corrective action is taken. The Director, OE, may revoke this delegation to the Deputy Ethics Official where no corrective action is taken.