In my last (modestly named) â€œWhatâ€™s Brewinâ€ column, I suggested a way to honor the troops this season: Anyone lucky enough to fly in one of those big, cushy first-class seats should think about giving it up to someone in uniform â€" especially troops wearing their desert fatigues and on home leave from Iraq or Afghanistan.
Several well-intentioned, but definitely Pecksniffian, folks wrote in to say any service member who accepted such a seat would be in violation of various government regulations, which for the most part consign federal employees to steerage class.
But, according to Eric Rishel, a senior Defense Department attorney, thatâ€™s not exactly the case. The Office of Government Ethics does bar federal employees from accepting gifts due to their position from â€œprohibited sources,â€ which means folks doing business with the government, Rishel said.
This means that a service member flying out to test a new plane, gadget or gizmo, should not accept a first-class seat from a contractor program manager whose company paid for that cushy seat (on the grounds that this might be an attempt to gain some influence with the service member).
But, if a service member is offered a seat from someone who does not fall into the dreaded â€œprohibited sourcesâ€ category offers a big cushy seat, it can be accepted â€" with some additional caveats, Rishel said.
It probably would not be a good idea for a three star in uniform to accept the upgrade because it would provide the impression of some â€œfat cat deal going on,â€ Rishel said. He added that the Air Force has regulations that say no one in the Air Force should fly in first class in uniform, a hard rule to adhere to as a â€œpractical matterâ€ if the cushy seat is offered on the plane.
The bottom line is anyone who does not fall into the dread â€œprohibited sourceâ€ category can give away their first-class seat to a service member this holiday season reasonably sure the E4 or E5 will not end up standing at attention at the Office of Government Ethics.
Reporters are sometimes called all kinds of names by folks in uniform, but Rishel assured me that we scribes are not labeled â€œprohibited sources,â€ so I look forward to giving up my big, cushy seat once again when I fly to Washington next week.