Please advise IBM of any mint issues

A tweet by Robert Swirsky:

A followup photo includes the fateful mint jar. In subsequent discussion, attorney Peter Orlowicz points out that general federal ethics regulations “exclude modest items of food/refreshments from the definition of ‘gift’; it’s not clear that IBM was being over-cautious, though, given that supplementary agency regulations as well as state and local regulations have been known to go further than the general federal standard.


  • I used to work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and we were not permitted to accept coffee or doughnuts at working meetings. We had to make some sort of payment, which usually caused difficulties for the organization – I seem to remember that the cash often went to the office coffee pool, even though the coffee was paid for by the company itself.

    Our resident inspectors had even stricter limits on their socialization. Working in Washington, I did not have to give up friendships with former Navy shipmates or the shildhood friend of my wife who worked for one of our licensees.

  • I used to work for IBM. One time In 1993 I taught a class in Dallas. The previous week the classroom had been used for a class with several government employees. There was a similar sign next to the coffee urn. This overabundance of caution has been around for a long time.

  • Eating from the jar might violate the emolu-mints clause.

  • New York City Building Department in its Industry Code of Conduct for Construction Professionals ( ) has this passage:

    “No gifts of money, flowers, candy, meals or other consumable items—not even a cup of coffee—or some other thing of value or benefit may be offered or given. This prohibition applies to official business and in relationships formed in connection with official business. Department employees have an obligation to notify the Department of Investigation if they are given or offered a gift, no matter how small its value.”

    Unfortunately, the past rampant corruption within the NYC Building Department, forced the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction. Taking bribes has always been illegal, and I don’t think this new policy will stop the case of a building inspector accepting an envelope with $5,000 cash to overlook a serious construction defect, conduct that the Department really wants to eliminate.

  • Years ago, at a joint FDA/Pharma (named at that time) Conference, even though there was a registration fee with lunch provided, I quipped to my tablemates (about 50/50 FDA/Industry), that as a taxpayer, lunch was on me. You should have seen the eyebrows and forks drop from the government types.

    I had a good laugh with that. Nowadays, I would probably spend a good amount of time talking to the Men in Black.

  • See 5 CFR 2634.204(a). Gifts of $20 or less, or $50 per calendar year are excepted from the definition of a gift.

    • Yes, but in the land of $500 toilet seats and $3000 hammers, what does $20 really buy? Would it actually cover the cost of a mint?