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No ethics issues for federal workers shutdown deals

Restaurants, bars and more offering help for feds not getting paid

Deals and discounts popping up around the DC region during the shutdown aren’t risking ethics violations. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Deals and discounts popping up around the DC region during the shutdown aren’t risking ethics violations. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Federal workers must adhere to strict ethical guidelines for accepting meals and favors, but the deals and discounts popping up around the D.C. region during the shutdown aren’t risking violations.

As the partial government shutdown stretches toward being the longest in modern history, dozens of restaurants are offering free and discounted meals to federal workers, many of whom are either furloughed or working without pay. Bars are offering drink discounts and happy hour specials. 

Feds have to be cautious about free and discounted offers, because under ethics rules, gifts are broadly defined as anything of monetary value, including transportation, local travel, lodgings and meals. Federal workers are allowed to accept gives valued at $20 or less, provided that the total value of gifts from the same entity is not more than $50 in a calendar year.

But a key exception is smoothing over any ethical concerns about these shutdown deals.

“Discounts available to the public or all Government employees,” are not considered gifts, according to the Office of Government Ethics.

That means that federal workers, furloughed or not, can enjoy their free Jose Andres sandwiches, &pizzas, Sweetgreen salads and discounted drinks without ethical qualms.

Discounts and drinks were maybe fun for a while, but as the shutdown drags on and more workers go without paychecks, community organizations are stepping up. The Capitol Area Food bank will open five free pop-up markets this weekend for federal employees and contractors affected by the partial shutdown. Fresh produce and other groceries will be available from 9 a.m. to noon on Jan 12 at these locations:

  • 1050 Brentwood Road NE
  • 6800 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, Virginia
  • 10480 Campus Way South, Largo, Maryland
  • 7074 Allentown Road, Camp Springs, Maryland
  • 12051 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland

Furloughed workers and contractors who are D.C. residents can visit Bread for the City’s Northwest or Southeast centers for a five-day supply of groceries. The Humane Rescue Alliance has a Pet Pantry that federal workers who live in D.C. can use to help feed their animals.

And here is an (incomplete) roundup of deals for those with a valid federal ID:

  • ThinkFoodGroup — Chef Jose Andres is giving workers with a valid U.S. government ID free sandwiches from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. until the furlough ends.
  • Sweetgreen — From Friday, Jan. 11, to Sunday, Jan. 13, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., workers with a government ID can get a free signature salad.
  • Pizzeria Paradiso — Federal contractors and employees can get two appetizers and a large pizza for $30 at all locations at any time of day until the shutdown ceases.
  • &pizza — Free pies for federal employees between 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. during the shutdown.
  • City Winery in Ivy City — Government workers get $1 glasses of City Winery’s label on tap.
  • Charlie Palmer — The swanky Capitol Hill steakhouse is serving a free fried chicken sandwich to those with a government ID.
  • Gregorys — All four D.C. locations are handing a free 12-ounce caffeinated beverage of any type to government employees with IDs.

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