Briefing

Gift Guide

'Tis the season to raise a glass and spread some cheer with your co-workers. But when it comes to gift-giving, if you work for Uncle Sam, Secret Santa isn't a free-for-all. To keep things on the up and up, the Office of Government Ethics offers a few guidelines on gift exchanges:

  • Don't spend more than $10: You can give your boss a coffee mug, but the pricey fountain pen and designer watch are out of the question.
  • No force-feeding: Chili cook-offs and cookie swaps are tasty, but kosher only if all contributions are voluntary.
  • Provide honest hospitality: If your supervisor invites you over for holiday cocktails, a reasonably priced bottle of wine or flower bouquet make appropriate host(ess) gifts. And any external partying should fall within the limits of how you would interact with good friends.

There are also strings attached to gifts from people outside your office, especially those folks who do business with your agency. People with an interest in your decision-making power are permitted to spend only $20 or less per gift, up to a maximum of $50 in a year.

So before you brave the mall, make a list and check it twice. Unethical gift-giving will land you on the naughty list.

-Emily Long

Spotlight

WHO: Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves

WHY: Groves is in the middle of the most costly and politically charged census to date. On top of well-publicized technology glitches and budget overruns, he lost a month of preparation time when senators put a hold on his nomination over concerns that statistical sampling and the controversial community organization ACORN could play a role in the 2010 count.

WHAT HE SAYS: At an Oct. 21 hearing, he vowed to get the bureau's budget under control. Estimates for the 2010 count have swelled to $15 billion. "Those budget overruns are intolerable," he told lawmakers.

Groves also disputed a GAO report that estimated the bureau had hired more than 200 criminals as census enumerators and said officials are developing a second security check for candidates whose fingerprints could not be read the first time. "Americans must be confident . . . we've taken every step to ensure their safety," he said.

-Gautham Nagesh

Uh, No . . .

Critics have had a field day disparaging some of the projects funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including repaving the runway of a Pennsylvania airport that serves 18 flights per week and the creation of an underground wildlife road crossing for turtles in Florida.

But those projects pale in comparison to those that the Obama administration deemed unworthy of receiving stimulus funds. In early October, Vice President Joe Biden announced the administration had modified or canceled more than 170 projects in the Recovery pipeline.

The terminated projects run the gamut from the merely irrelevant to the certifiably ridiculous. A sampling of initiatives that did not meet the administration's standards includes:

  • An Interior Department plan to purchase a freezer for fish sperm.
  • A Pentagon project to steam clean bird droppings from a building and to repair the roof of a fast-food franchise on a military base.
  • A proposal that the Labor Department rent the Georgia Dome for an event on homelessness.
  • A General Services Admin-istration project to repair and rehabilitate the East Wing of the White House.
  • An Agriculture Department plan to use Rural Development Business and Industry loans for a ski resort, a gas station, a luxury spa and inn, and to refinance a Rite Aid.
  • -Robert Brodsky

    Flashback

    From the archives of Government Executive:

    10 YEARS AGO:
    "Federal managers and computer programmers are preparing to work through the New Year's 2000 weekend to ensure the year 2000 computer problem does not disrupt government operations."

    20 YEARS AGO:
    "If the Bush administration's privatization efforts have come to an impasse, a large part of the reason is government agencies' resistance to Circular A-76."

    30 YEARS AGO:
    "They look at a poorly managed company like Chrysler and wring their hands over how to loan it taxpayer money to save it-while down the street another part of government sues Xerox for, basically, being well-run and successful."

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