Magazine article National Defense

Balancing the Rules for Gifts, Hospitality

Magazine article National Defense

Balancing the Rules for Gifts, Hospitality

Article excerpt

"OK, team, it's our first trip to visit the new customer in Asia. I read that in their culture, you're expected to show up with a gift. We need to decide what to give them and it has to be really special; I mean, this contract is worth millions and this is our chance to show them how much it means to us. Oh, by the way, Bob, are you coming to the game tonight with us? We're going to be in the consultants' skybox!"

This is a common scenario in many big businesses. Somewhere in the code of ethics and conduct of nearly every government contractor is a commitment to conduct business with integrity, compete fairly based on the merits of its products and services, and comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

Managing ethics and compliance issues around gifts and hospitality however, is challenging. After all, business is conducted between people. Good working relationships are built on communications, which lead to understanding and successful execution, which in turn lead to trust. And in the interest of promoting positive relationships, it is customary for people to offer and receive gifts and hospitality.

There are numerous and complex rules and regulations pertaining to gifts and hospitality. They exist in the interest of fair competition and process integrity, but create a compliance landscape that can be tricky to navigate. Contractors need to be particularly mindful of the ethics rules affecting their relationships with U.S. government employees. In the international arena, there is an increasingly dense web of anti-bribery and corruption laws, as well as an environment in which cultural norms can cause confusion and concern.

The challenge for contractors is to adopt processes that allow them to cultivate business relationships for success, while also protecting the company by facilitating ethical conduct and compliance. A solid approach to gifts and hospitality management should include, at a minimum:

* Clear and understandable policies and procedures with as little ambiguity as possible;

* Guidelines for interactions with all business contacts, including commercial contacts, as well as those representing the U.S. government or other governments;

* Scenarios with situations typical to the business to guide employee understanding of what is and is not generally acceptable;

* Defined value thresholds, above which approval is required;

* Documented approval processes for items that exceed thresholds or require determinations of "reasonableness";

* Information on whom to contact for questions or approval and how to reach them promptly;

* A gift log of items offered and received and;

* Procedures to audit, monitor and track travel and expense records, as well as gifts and hospitality.

At Mission Essential Personnel LLC, gifts and hospitality policies are practical, reasonable and user-friendly. Mission Essential provides training not only on policy and guidelines, but also on the reasons behind them. Rather than publish rigid lists of prohibitions, they believe in treating employees like professionals, giving them responsibility and empowering them to make good decisions on a daily basis that support their functions. …

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