4th of July Celebration – in May?

Photo from Wikipedia

Our embassies and consulates overseas celebrate the 4th of July every year. But this year, one post beat out everyone else. My tipster says that at one US Embassy in the EUR Bureau, a reception was held to celebrate our 233rd year of independence reportedly last week. It was called the “Independence Day Reception.” I don’t know if there were fireworks.

The embassy also published on its website a public acknowledgment for “the following sponsors for their generous support of our 2009 Independence Day reception.” No photos though.

I don’t know folks. I’m confused. The 4th of July celebration in May? What’s next, Christmas in June? Thanksgiving Day in December so we only need to hunt one turkey?

There is one thing that particularly bugs me about these 4th of July receptions – officers going out with their begging bowls to corporate sponsors. It is just so … so tacky. Nobody enjoys doing this, folks complain about it (though not loudly), yet that’s the way it’s been done for many years. At least as far back as 1996 when I started paying attention, but probably this practice dates back to earlier years; just can’t say for sure when.

I know … I know it is not prohibited by regulations. In fact this is what the regs actually says on Gifts for July Fourth Events Abroad (2 FAM 962.1-6):

“Management officers at post may accept cash and in-kind donations for official embassy-sponsored July Fourth events in their host countries. In addition, ambassadors and other principal officers at post may solicit, or authorize the solicitation of, such donations without prior authorization by the Under Secretary for Management, consistent with some detailed guidelines (see page 10).”

Tut…tut … okay, “may accept,” passive action, I supposed that’s fine, but solicit? What else would you call this but simply tacky … or try meretricious … You know entry-level officers would be saddled with this project, don’t you?

The regs also says:

No employee may make any commitment to an actual or prospective donor that implies that the donor will receive any advantage or preferment from the U.S. Government as a result of the donation, including a promise to intervene on behalf of the donor with the host government, a commitment to invite the donor to official functions, or an assurance that the donor would have preferential access to official facilities. In the course of his or her official duties, no U.S. Government employee may afford any donor preferential treatment as a result of a donation (see page 17).

In short, you can get the hamburger guys to donate 1000 burgers for the reception, but when they need USG assistance to deal with their host country problems, you can’t give them any preferential treatment.

Sometimes I do wonder if the folks who write these rules ever live in a real world with real people exhibiting normal human behavior.

This seems to me like one more reflection of our government living beyond its means. If the government wants official diplomatic receptions, then let’s have a reception – but our government should appropriate funds for it. We must pay for our own official party. If we can’t pay for it, well then, can’t have one. We can’t spend what we don’t have, or can we?

It’s a tad like having a birthday party and asking strangers to bring in food and drinks for a large potluck. The only difference is they all have to go through security, and metal detectors — and they can’t bring their BFFs along unless the official host says so…

Related Item:

Solicitation and/or Acceptance of Gifts by the Department of State
2 FAM 960 (pdf)