gifts to presidents, kings give Condoleezza Rice jewelry, presidential gifts
Saudi News Agency/AP
King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, right, meets with U.S. Secretary of State
Rice after her arrival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 2007. Rice
received a $20,000 gift
from King Abdullah that he sent in February 2006: a white gold and diamond necklace,
earrings, a bracelet and a ring. (AP)

As US Officials Leave Office, Lavish Foreign Gifts Stay Behind

December 24, 2008 08:53 AM
by Emily Coakley
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has received expensive items from heads of state during her tenure, but federal law says they won’t leave office when she does.

Rice Can’t Keep Expensive Jewelry

Jewels from the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan given to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2007 totaled more than $300,000, the Associated Press reported.

They include an emerald and diamond set of bracelet, earrings, and necklace worth an estimated $147,000 from King Abdullah II of Jordan. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah gave her a similar set, but of rubies and diamonds, AP said.

But Rice, like man y U.S. officials, has learned that when it comes to gifts from foreign heads of state, you can’t take it with you. That’s because federal rules say that all gifts from a foreign government that are worth more than $335 are the U.S. government’s property, and must be turned over to the General Services Administration, which has extensive rules on the subject. “Employees” include the president, members of Congress, and even federal workers’ spouses.

When an employee turns over a gift, the agency he or she works for can “determines if it will keep the gift or decoration for official use,” GSA says. If the agency decides not to keep an item, the employee can buy it from the GSA. Gifts that are not bought by the employee or otherwise destroyed could eventually be offered for public sale. In fact, the agency maintains an auction site for what they call “surplus property.”
It’s not clear what the State Department or Rice might do with the jewelry and other gifts she’s received.

Gifts are often exchanged between foreign officials during diplomatic visits. President George W. Bush has also received many such gifts, but they were not as opulent as Rice’s. The president’s gifts include $450 in exercise equipment from Singapore’s president, and $100,000 in gifts from the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, AP said.

Opinion & Analysis: Presidential gifts need better tracking

In 2002, Paul Light of the Brookings Institution testified before the House Committee on Government Reform’s Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee on the subject of presidential gifts. He said the “presidential gift process offers the potential for staggering embarrassment and diminished accountability.” He called for reforming the system to shed more light on who gives what presents for what purpose.

Reference: Buying government property on the Web

In late December, items available for bid on the GSA auction site included computer equipment, propeller blades for a boat, file cabinets, winches, several inoperable trucks, and a baby grand piano.

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