What is the authority to collect a fee from federal attendees to cover the cost of food and refreshments? Is it a requirement that a non federal entity collect the fees, such as a non for profit organization?
We recommend that you get advice from your own agency legal counsel, with respect to what expenditures are authorized and your agency's policies/procedures for collecting funds from event attendees -- DAU cannot provide specific guidance on this issue.
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We are not aware of any statute or regulation that specifically grants agencies authority to collect a fee as you describe. However, that is not to imply that federal agencies are unable to collect amounts to defray expenses associated with hosting conferences. The Office of Government Ethics (Informal Advisory Letter 98 X 16) noted that co-sponsorship of a conference with a private entity is governed by an agency's organic statute and involves the interpretation of that statute in relationship to the agency's authority and mission. When co-sponsorship is appropriate, conference registration fees may be appropriate. For example, when conference registration fees are a condition of attendance and include meal costs, per diem amounts for federal employees who are in travel status may be reduced (Joint Federal Travel Regulation, T4040, E, 12j). Again, we recommend that you seek a formal opinion from your office of legal counsel.