Office of Ethics
United States Department of Agriculture

Ethics Considerations for the Acceptance of Travel Funds from Non-Federal Sources

Reference:

Federal Travel Regulation
https://www.gsa.gov/portal/ext/public/site/FTR/file/FTR304TOC.html/category/21871/hostUri/portal


Background

Occasionally, an agency is offered funds for reimbursement of official travel and subsistence from a non-Federal source for employee attendance at meetings or similar functions. The General Services Administration and the Office of Government Ethics identified certain conditions under which agencies may accept travel funds. These conditions are further clarified by USDA.

Receipt of travel funds from a FEDERAL source is not an ethics issue because generally inter-Governmental activities and exchanges do not pose conflicts for purposes of the ethics rules.

Below are considerations and procedures for the acceptance of travel funds from all NON-FEDERAL sources.

General Prohibition

USDA agencies may not accept travel or expenses for travel from prohibited sources, unless travel is conducted in accordance with a cooperative agreement or cooperative exchange.

In those instances where acceptance is possible, EMPLOYEES ARE PROHIBITED FROM ACCEPTING CASH OR CHECKS MADE PAYABLE TO THE TRAVELER.

NIFA Prohibition

Acceptance of travel funds from domestic non-Federal sources is not authorized. NIFA employees should only use this guide when considering the acceptance of travel funds from foreign sources.

Definitions

COOPERATIVE AGREEMENT:
a relationship between the Agency and eligible Federal or non-Federal entity where:
- All parties involved have a mutual interest in the agreement's objectives;
- All parties agree to contribute resources to accomplish the research objectives; and
- All parties participate in the cooperative work to be accomplished.

DECIDING OFFICIAL:
agency employee identified at the highest level possible to ensure adequate analysis of travel fund offer. Examples of Deciding Officials include:
Administrator, Deputy Administrator, Associate Administrator, Staff Director, Division Director, and ARS Designated Area Ethics Advisor.


EMPLOYEE:
an appointed officer or employee of USDA including Special Government Employees (Collaborators, Consultants and Panel Members). The term excludes independent contractors.

MEETING OR SIMILAR FUNCTION:
a conference, seminar, speaking engagement, symposium, training course, or similar off site event. The term excludes meetings or events required to carry out an agency's statutory or regulatory functions, such as: investigations, inspections, audits, site visits, negotiations, or litigation. Also excluded are promotional vendor training or other meetings held for the primary purpose of marketing the non-Federal source's products.

NON-FEDERAL SOURCE:
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.

PAYMENT:
funds paid by a non-Federal source for travel, subsistence, and related expenses by check or similar instrument to an agency. (NOTE: Employees may not personally accept and retain payments. All funds received must immediately be submitted to the Agency.)

PAYMENT IN KIND:
goods, services, or other benefits provided directly to the traveler from a non-Federal source for travel, subsistence, and related expenses in lieu of funds paid to an agency.

PROHIBITED SOURCE:
any person/organization (a majority of whose members are):
- Seeking official action by USDA;
- Conducting business or seeking to do business with USDA;
- Conducting activities regulated by USDA; or
- Having interests that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.

Conditions For Acceptance

The Agency must establish the following conditions to assure that funds accepted from non-Federal sources comply with statute and regulation

Number Condition
1 Deciding Officials must be appointed at the highest level possible to ensure adequate consideration and review of each offer and acceptance.
2 Documentation of Deciding Official's determination should be evident with each offer and acceptance.
Guidelines
For Determining
Acceptance
The Deciding Official must make the following four determinations before accepting payment from a non-Federal source.

(NIFA Deciding Officials may use these guidelines for funds offered by foreign sources only. (See Preceding NIFA Prohibition).


Number Determination
1 Employee attendance benefits the Agency.
2 Payment is for attendance at a meeting or similar function.
3 Payment is for travel related to the employee's official duties.
4 Payment is from a non-Federal source that is not disqualified on conflict-of-interest grounds. (See Travel - Conflict-of-Interest Analysis on following page.)