GSA Issues Final Rule on Payments in Kind

The General Services Administration has issued a final rule creating a new definition for “payment in kind” to account for waived or discounted registration fees provided by non-federal sponsors of meetings or functions in which an agency employee speaks, participates in a panel, or presents information. The rule notes that these are not payments in kind.

GSA proposed the rule in May 2019 upon realizing that the law did not distinguish between employees simply attending events and employees participating in events. The final rule notes that the agency decided to amend the rule “because employees participate as a speaker, panelist, or presenter at these types of events to further the mission of their agency as a necessary and customary part of their work activities.”

GSA has redefined the travel purpose codes found in Appendix C of Chapter 301. GSA has also amended Chapter 304 to allow discounted registration fees for employees.

Under the new rule, discounted registration fees will not need to be reported to the Office of Government Ethics. Other types of travel expenses paid by non-federal sources, such as transportation or lodging, will still need to be reported and reviewed.

The final rule clarifies that agency employees can only accept waived or discounted registration fees on the day or days they are participating in the event. If the event lasts multiple days, discounted registration fees for the days the employee is not presenting are still payments in kind.

During the proposal period, GSA received two comments on the change. The first was agreeable, and the second suggested that GSA add the ability to waive multi-day registrations under the agency’s gift acceptance authority.

The agency responded to the second comment, “GSA believes the gift authority concept is sufficiently noted in both § 304–3.19 and other relevant sections in chapter 304. GSA recognizes that permitting agencies to waive the registration fee for the duration of a multi-day meeting or similar function might have provided additional efficiency for agency authorizing officials; however, adopting such a proposal could create confusion because it is inconsistent with 5 CFR 2635.203(b)(8) of the OGE Standards of Ethical Conduct regulations.”

The rule notes that GSA believes these provisions will “prove efficient” compared to current practices.

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