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Free software must be returned

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 20, 2004) -- Air Force people who have received a promotional copy of a popular office productivity software suite, are instructed to return it to the sender.

The Microsoft Corporation sent promotional copies of its popular "Office" software to a half million customers -- some in the Air Force. The commercial value of those software packages, more than $500 each, exceeds Joint Ethics Regulation limits for personal gifts, said John M. Gilligan, Air Force chief information officer.

Promotional office productivity software sent to Air Force members must be returned to Microsoft. The market value of the software exceeds Joint Ethics Regulation limits for personal gifts.

"Our ethical regulations govern the acceptance of gifts from those who do business with us," Mr. Gilligan said. "The value of those packages is well in excess of what Air Force members can accept, in particular since we are customers of Microsoft. In the public sector we are not allowed to accept that type of gift."

Mr. Gilligan said Air Force members who received the promotional software are obligated to return it to Microsoft.

People may return the software by re-sealing the packaging, marking it "refused delivery -- return to sender" and taking it to the post office. Mr. Gilligan said if the post office refuses to take the packages, they can be turned in to local communications squadrons.

"Our installation communications squadrons will be collecting the packages and mailing them back as a group," Mr. Gilligan said.

The policies regarding acceptance of gifts are in place to protect the Air Force from undue influence by organizations it does business with. Mr. Gilligan said the principal desktop productivity suite used in the Air Force comes from Microsoft. He also said the service is in negotiations with the company for additional product licenses.

While it is unethical for employees of the public sector to accept gifts, Mr. Gilligan said the Air Force does not believe Microsoft had any ill intent.

"This was simply a marketing campaign that Microsoft undertook where they failed to understand the impact of sending free sample software to government employees," Mr. Gilligan said. "I think it was just an oversight by not realizing the ethical restrictions we are under."